Race Weekend Central

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in NASCAR: Atlanta Edition

The 2016 season is off to a running start and as expected there are plenty of hots and not-so-hots after a weekend at Daytona International Speedway. Just don’t expect every race this year to have the kind of finish we saw Sunday.

It’s often been said that baseball is a game of inches, but how about NASCAR? Or at least the Daytona 500 in this case. I’m not so sure about the entire race being great, but the finish, well, you’re not going to get a better one than that. It was almost like the original Disney cars movie where it was too close to call at the line. Just hard to believe that after 500 miles that a race could come down to being decided by inches.

One of the other things I don’t like as a result of the charter system is that the race winnings for each driver are no longer going to be made public. That’s another poorly thought out idea by someone at NASCAR. Aren’t the fans the ones who buy the tickets or watch the races on TV? Aren’t the fans the ones who are some of the most loyal to NASCAR sponsors? And, it also looks like NASCAR is trying to hide something by not making those dollar amounts public.

While Chase Elliott was spinning and going into the grass and ruining his day, the other driver involved in that incident was Regan Smith. He also spun, but kept his car on the track and out of the grass. The result was he was able to recover and earn an eighth-place finish for his team. That was worth . . . oh wait, can’t really tell how much that was worth in dollars to the team. But it was nice save and finish for sure.

It was not a great day for rookies. First, there was Elliott’s spin and foray into the grass that put him 40 laps down by the time repairs were made. Then, Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto also were involved in the same crash. Elliott and Buescher are past XFINITY Series champions, but we’ve seen before that no matter how much success a driver has there (see Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as Exhibit A), the Sprint Cup series can be quite different.

Well, we can’t leave out Denny Hamlin here, can we? Hamlin made quite a remarkable move on the last lap to get himself in position to win. He, or his spotter, understood Kevin Harvick was leading a big run on the top line and his only way to get a win was to move up there. The win in the 500 paired with the victory in the Sprint Unlimited last week makes it a pretty good start for the No. 11 team, especially since this one gives him a spot in the Chase as well.

It’s one thing if a rookie makes a mistake at Daytona. There is a reason they have yellow stripes on the back of their cars. However, it was a complete surprise when Dale Earnhardt Jr., one of the favorites to win Sunday, made a mistake and spun himself into the grass as well. The heavy damage cost him 31 laps and he ended up in 36th place. While Junior is great at these plate races when running out front, this shows you how tenuous running in the middle of the pack can be in these races.

It’s not unusual to see celebrities at big sporting events, but it was particularly good to see a couple of athletes from Major League Baseball at Sunday’s race. First, new Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. waved the green flag to get the race started. Great move by NASCAR to have one of baseball’s greats there. Then also, last year’s National League MVP Bryce Harper was there on pit road. I was glad to see that none of the FOX reporters asked him any clown questions (If you don’t get that clown reference, check out this link).

It’s easy to understand why Kyle Busch was a bit frustrated afterwards. He was right there on that last lap as well and just as easily could have won his first Daytona 500. But what he and every other driver really knows deep down, and especially in the closing laps of any race, even a restrictor plate race, is there are no teammates. It’s every driver going for the win, which is a driver’s job, not worrying about hurting someone’s feelings while trying to do it. It’s just the way it is and nobody would’ve blamed Busch if he had done the same as Hamlin.

Another save from a spin that kept not only him from disaster, but a large chunk of the field, was made by Matt Kenseth on that final lap after he and Hamlin tapped bumpers. Kenseth ended up crossing the line in 14th. However, pretty much the rest of the field should thank him for keeping his car from spinning and staying up out of the way as to not cause “The Big One.” And the fact that there was no “Big One” in this race was quite refreshing as well.

I was good with the announcing crew pretty much all day. However, when it comes down to a dramatic finish, with all three guys yelling at once, it was indecipherable. The FOX producers need to make it clear to allow one of them, say, Mike Joy, to make that final call in such a close race. Who knows, he may have made an epic call that would’ve helped define the finish as one of NASCAR’s greatest moments. But we just won’t ever know that now.

Atlanta prediction: The second race of the season is difficult to make a call on because Daytona is such a different style track than what we see most of the season. So, yes, going a bit conservative on this one and picking Kevin Harvick. The Deep Sleeper Underdog Pick this week is Danica Patrick. Yes, after you stop laughing, just know she has finished 16th and 6th in her last two races there.

About the author

Jeff is in his fifth year with Frontstretch and in his third year of writing the Hot and Not column after having been the fantasy writer in his first two seasons. After spending all of his post-collegiate career in sports and news at newspapers, he changed professions three years ago, but remains a faithful fan of NASCAR and other forms of racing allowing him to give us his unique take on NASCAR each week.

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I say a subtle “hot” should go to under the wire Ryan Blaney. While they ran out of ink and had no voice left telling us Bill Elliott’s offspring was the second coming. Ryan Blaney while not at the front, had some issues brought it home in one piece for the Wood Brothers, and a top 20 finish!

While Hamlin had a good day, I do not believe the narrative for one minute of a “fantastic move”. The move that was Kenseth failing yet again to block. Not to mention Harvick and Logano assisting him hugely for the win. The dim bulb was classless in not acknowledging the Chevy or the Ford that got him there. A theme that Jesus Joe and Toys, I suspect will drill in all 4 of the good little Toy soldiers. The “team” did it. No, this instance sure looked like the usual inept block by Matt, yet again if Matt just kept about his biz, he might very well be a 500 champ again. Funny how Hamlin was dancing around with his version. He knows Batty Matty might get the itch when he is 10 laps down and Hamlin is leading with a few laps to go. And go out crash him and lie about a tire going down.


Found it interesting during pre race coverage one hot headed punk with an attitude (Bryce Harper) hanging out with another hot headed punk with an attitude (Kevin Harvick). Now there’s some clowns.

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