When you put aside the terrifying wreck that broke Aric Almirola’s back, we can look back on the Kansas race weekend and decide that the cream rose to the top by the end of the race with Martin Truex Jr. soundly putting his demons to bed on Saturday night and Kyle Busch taking his typical bow on Friday night. However, the races were not really about veterans stealing all the glory one more time. Instead the young guns really did put on another exciting show only to have Lady Luck play her hand late in the day.
On Friday night, a familiar name made a dramatic appearance. Ben Rhodes–who made as much noise as he could in 2016 while William Byron stole all the trophies last year–drove over all the competition in his No. 27 Toyota Tundra. On the final restart, he kept his machine nose to nose with Kyle Busch’s truck and actually managed to pull ahead after a few laps of nail biting competition. That’s right. A young gun was able to catch and pass Busch, which is a rarity when Kyle is running the lower series.
However, we were not treated to the sight of a driver celebrating his first truck win. With just a few laps remaining, Rhodes’ engine detonated after a piece of debris rocketed through his grill. Absolutely heart rending! Not only could he taste victory, so could everybody in the stands. It was certainly a racing deal. Lady Luck simply had other plans for Rhodes that night. Everybody sighed in resignation, including the victorious Busch.
Over in the MENCS on Saturday, the crowd was once again primed for watching one of our newer celebrities grab some of the limelight. Ryan Blaney in the Wood Bros. No. 21 snared his first career pole. As the green flag fell and the segments passed by, he maintained his presence in the Top 5. By the time the final segment began, we were all willing to welcome another first time winner.
It wasn’t meant to be. When all is said and done, Blaney tried his hardest to hold off hard-charging Martin Truex Jr., but the younger driver may have used up his tires where Truex simply got better restarts at the end of the race. At Kansas, like many other 1 1/2 mile tracks, once you’re out front there’s no catching you. When the nose of Blaney’s Ford wiggled, Truex had all the clean air he would need to seal the deal.
It was disappointing that Rhodes and Blaney missed out. These kids drove the wheels off their rides and put on a fantastic show. But when you consider that the end of Rhodes’ day was due to nothing more than bad luck, and that Blaney lost out due to tire management, well that helps to mitigate the sense of loss. They are here to provide plenty of frustration for the more seasoned drivers in the field and are doing a damned good job of surpassing expectation.
Earlier in the week, I had been pondering what was it that NASCAR needs to establish the new guard of drivers as headliners. Some fist fights after the race always helps, but honestly door-to-door action is the most memorable way to generate loyalty from an avid racing fan. Blaney and Rhodes had us headed in the right direction, but the fans in the stands are still waiting for an explosive conclusion to a race where emotions are more rigorously engaged.
It will happen. I can almost taste the crazy summer nights where burnt rubber mingles with shredded nerves. Before we know it, more fresh faces will be stealing all the headlines. I’m looking forward to it.
When you’re returning to Cup Series competition for the first time in eight years, your desire to be included can override your better judgment. Carl Long was simply thrilled to have a sponsor for the Kansas race, but he didn’t stop to find out what kind of company they were. It turns out that VeedVerks produces marijuana vaping products. NASCAR had Long’s team strip the logo from their car during inspection as the sponsor was not approved by the sanctioning body. The owner/driver took all the responsibility for the faux pas.
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