Some say momentum doesn’t exist in sports.
They’ll say it’s nothing more than a feeling, a faux sense of confidence that doesn’t actually propel a player — or in this case, a driver — to anything more than what they would have achieved on skill, luck or other circumstance alone. Whatever happens was going to happen anyway, whether the player had a strong lead-in or not.
I’m a little more in favor of momentum. Doesn’t a heightened sense of confidence generally help a person’s output, or the opposite when one’s had a rough string? When a few fairly exciting things happen in a row to you, don’t you usually feel on top of the world and like nothing can slow you down?
Let’s look at NASCAR as though momentum exists, that say, a three-race streak of strong finishes will lead to more of the same, or will certainly at least keep a performing driver out of the dumps for a little while longer when bad finishes inevitably come around.
If that’s the case, then this weekend is kind of the worst for certain drivers on the circuit.
Sure, a week off isn’t going to ruffle too many feathers; after all, Sprint Cup Series drivers won’t be getting any off-weeks at all after awhile. But while a breather can be nice, for momentum’s sake it can kill what someone had going — which can either be good or bad, depending on what one’s results were like prior to the break.
Let’s look at a few drivers on either side of that spectrum — the ones whose positive momentum might get killed by the off-week, and those who could come out of the other side refreshed and ready to kick the bad vibes to the curb.
Good Momentum: Matt Kenseth: He may not be in the Chase just yet without a win, but Kenseth is still one of the sport’s hottest drivers. He’s better than his closest competitor in terms of average finish over the last three races by an entire place, at 5.7. Basically, the guy’s been knocking on the door of victory lane all season, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets there — and once he does, the floodgates will likely open like they did last year.
Good Momentum: Jimmie Johnson:Again, another driver without a win in 2014 but with a very strong start to the season that saw the defending Cup champion seemingly poised for that breakout win sometime in the near future. Had it not been for a 25th-place run at Texas, Johnson would be riding an even stronger wave of success, particularly with finishes of second at Martinsville and third last weekend at Darlington.
Of course, if there’s anything Johnson and co. have shown over the years, it’s that they don’t play by the rules of mere mortals, so they’ll probably be good to go no matter what.
Good Momentum: Jeff Gordon: The current points leader hasn’t shown signs of letting up at all in 2014 — suppose that’s why he’s No. 1 in the standings? The off-week could finally be the lull that brings Gordon back to earth. For his championship hopes’ sake, he’ll have to hope that’s not the case; despite his points lead, he’s also winless in the first eight races, and Gordon hasn’t exactly shown an ability to get the job done entering victory lane later in his career.
Bad Momentum: Martin Truex, Jr.: What’s going right for Truex lately? Since 2014 began, he’s been unable to score even just one top-10 finish in his new No. 78 car for Furniture Row Racing, with a best finish of 14th coming at Las Vegas. His last three races have been nothing close to spectacular, with two finishes outside the top 20. Now is a perfect time for Truex and his team to regroup; they need it badly.
Bad Momentum: Brad Keselowski:Seems like Keselowski’s been spending more time fine-tuning his new blog (which I can respect, obviously) than getting his car up to speed. Despite an immaculately strong start that saw the 2012 champion win once and finish third twice, he hasn’t found the top 10 since, his best finish coming at Bristol with a 14th. He’s in the Chase so there’s not much to fret about, but the No. 2 has definitely been far from everyone’s mind when it comes to drivers who actually have a stated chance at victory each week.
Bad Momentum: Kasey Kahne: While Johnson and Gordon are looking to keep their strong momentum past the off-week, teammate Kahne probably can’t be more grateful for it. He’s been terrible compared to his three teammates in 2014, with a mere two top 10s to show for his season — and those came during races three and four. Since then has been a downward slide that has put Kahne into a weird limbo where fans watching the telecast just aren’t even realizing he’s on the track at all, because he’s not up front but isn’t getting lapped every so often to get TV time that way either.
He’s just… there.
About the author
Rutherford is the managing editor of Frontstretch, a position he gained in 2015 after serving on the editing staff for two years. At his day job, he's a journalist covering music and rock charts at Billboard. He lives in New York City, but his heart is in Ohio -- you know, like that Hawthorne Heights song.