Kyle Larson won his first ever grandfather clock after leading just 30 laps. Larson flirted with the Top 10 most of the race but wasn’t in position enough to be considered a contender. On a day full of long green flag runs, a late race caution mixed things up based on race and pit strategy putting him in position to win.
A very surprised Larson was able to pass and pull away from then leader Joey Logano, another driver that benefitted from strategy and was in the right place at the right time. Logano struggled to stay in the Top 20 and found magic with a change that brough his car to life and having the right tire strategy.
Is that the “new” NASCAR as Denny Hamlin lamented after the race?
“Get out front, don’t mess up on pit road and don’t mess up your strategy” seems like a sure-fire way to run a race, especially with a car that makes it difficult to pass. Martinsville has become a race where track position is everything, almost like a road course race. One could argue that track position is always key and it can be, but most fans are there to watch a RACE, where drivers pass each other based on how good they and their car are. That wasn’t the case this week where the fastest car didn’t win the race.
NASCAR doesn’t reward you with a trophy for leading Stage 1 or 2, you have to be there at the end. Ryan Preece started on the pole and easily led 135 laps winning Stage 1. But a speeding penalty took him out of the lead, this being one of the things Denny Hamlin mentioned to not do – and Hamlin should know all about messing up on pit road.
Kevin Harvick won Stage 2 and Chase Briscoe went on to lead 109 laps and certainly looked like he might take the checkers. Once again, the rare yellow flag stirred the pot while some care pitted for tires other decided that 30-40 lap tires were still enough to race on a day where track position was as if not more important. Pit strategies saw a lot of cars taking two tires to further mix up the field. In the end, a difficult track, a new race package, penalties and track position as race strategy ruled the day.
Kind of sounds like any race finish, doesn’t it?
Hamlin has certainly benefitted from being lucky rather than being the fastest car and as much as he has been griping lately, he has a point. As of this writing, a social media post-race poll by Jeff Gluck saw nearly 70% of fans thought that Martinsville was not a good race. While Kyle Larson fans may disagree, the race was a bit of a parade even though there was a lot of battling two- and three-wide as cars fought to pass each other.
Things of note: Short track racing
The new short track package is still being vetted but the jury is in and the verdict isn’t good. Fans don’t show up to a short track expecting to see a road course race. Passing has become more difficult and to a certain degree that is as it should be. But a complete lack of passing isn’t what the fans look for. OK, there is passing that goes on for 12-15th place and while that may be an interesting battle from time to time, that isn’t what you watch Cup racing for.
Pit road penalties are a part of the game, you screw up and you lose. Go to the end of the lead lap cars and fight your way back if you can. Track position has been with racing forever as well. Fuel mileage races have been part of the equation as well.
When the leader can check out on the field, it always makes for a long day of racing no matter what the track is. If not for the Stage cautions, there might have been even fewer drivers who led laps at Martinsville. That’s kind of messed up. The tight quarters, rubbing is racing kid of racing we used to see at Bristol and Martinsville is a thing of the past. On one hand, fewer cautions make for better pacing of a race and it’s over in 3 hours or less but seeing cars check out of the field in clean air isn’t an enjoyable race. And having a race finish decided between two cars who sucked all day long in a 15 lap “battle” may give you a surprise winner but that isn’t exactly what fans show up for either.
What are your thoughts?
Next up: Talladega
I wouldn’t necessarily say I got the winner right this week but I did call out Team Hendrick and Kyle Larson in spite of his history at Martinsville. Joey Logano also finished P2 but got that via strategy, not because he had a fast car.
This week we get what we’ve been waiting for, the first race at Talladega.
And we all know what a crapshoot this race can be even though it might provide us with a bit more excitement than the last few races have. This track has also seen 6 different winners over the last 6 races. Ross Chastain is the defending spring race winner while Chase Elliott is the defending track winner having won the fall race.
Just about any driver can win this race. This is all about speed, drafting and staying out of trouble. Trouble will come because someone will make an error in judgement in blocking or misjudging their closing rate. Rarely is a blown tire or mechanical issue the cause of The Big One at Talladega. At some point, a driver or two will run out of track, talent or time and that will decide the race winner. You can also expect the race to go into overtime since the field tends to lose its collective mind in the closing laps.
Chevy seems to have really fast cars right now and they placed 5 drivers in the Top 10 at Daytona. Talladega isn’t the handling track that Daytona is but speed is speed. Whichever manufacturer that can line up its cars in the draft will be dominant early on but once you get past Stage 2 that alignment will start to erode and drivers will look for ANY opening that could put them in control of the race. If you have a fast car, are a known drafter and can be trusted, they’ll ride you to the final turn. Then it’s Katie, bar the door.
Let me know your thoughts below!
(Featured Photo by Tim Parks/HHP for Chevy Racing)