Race Weekend Central

Who’s Hot & Who’s Not: The First Time Edition

If you never think anything good can happen to you… or maybe if that good thing is close to happening, but you think it might not… or maybe if you’re afraid to take the one chance to make that good thing happen — then all three of NASCAR’s major races this weekend were for you, with three first-time winners at each of the races across Michigan International Speedway and Road America.

There’s a first time for everything, and there’s especially a time for good things to come along, even when you might think it’s just not ever going to happen. Three NASCAR drivers proved that this weekend.

When attending the NASCAR spring race at Dover, my son and I were fortunate enough to get in what turned out to be a short line and get Michael McDowell’s autograph. A couple of thoughts I had after meeting him: “what a great guy,” and, “it’s a shame he’s never going to win a race.”

Never have I been so happy to have a thought turn out to be wrong.

McDowell earned his first NASCAR victory with a win in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race on the road course at Road America on Saturday. One of the good things about this victory is that McDowell’s No. 2 Richard Childress Racing car was a one of contenders all day. It showed that when he has good equipment, he has the ability to race with anyone.

The other thing about McDowell is that he is someone who has never been afraid to talk about his faith. But he didn’t need a win to show his faith; he’s always been that way. Sometimes we hear athletes do the “thank God” thing after a win, but for McDowell it worked in reverse, and it was somewhat refreshing.

(Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)
NBC’s coverage has left some viewers more confused than up to speed. (Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)

I’ve tried to be patient with NBC’s coverage of Sprint Cup Series races, but I’ve pretty much run out of it by now. While there were only four cautions in Sunday’s race at Michigan, too often I was left wondering who the Lucky Dog was after a caution. Also, at no point late in the race did the broadcasters mention that, because of the late crashes, Chris Buescher was moving up in positions, which is important because every point matters for his Chase chances.

And also, while I get that no one is perfect, Rick Allen makes mistakes on a regular basis. I don’t know if he’s trying to talk and while getting information fed to him through his earpiece. Whatever the case, it happens way too often.

Any racing fan knew that it was not a matter of if but when for Kyle Larson to earn his first Sprint Cup victory. Larson did so by pulling away on a late restart at Michigan, admitting he got a little assist from Brad Keselowski to do so.

Larson’s driving talent is obvious, but he and his Chip Ganassi Racing team’s ability to finish races and earn a victory had proved elusive for many reasons not only this season, but in others as well.

The big thing here is now that Larson is in the Chase, don’t expect him to be a token member there. He has had some of his best races in the Chase; it will be a surprise if he is not a real contender in those final 10 races.

It seemed for much of the season that Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray were pretty much locks to make it into the Chase based on the Cup points standings. But now they are standing on much less firm footing, as they are the final three drivers without a win who are currently in the Chase.

With two races left in the Sprint Cup regular season, one driver is guaranteed to make it in on points. But now McMurray sits in the final spot with a 15-point lead over Ryan Newman, while Dillon has a 21-point advantage and Elliott a 27-point edge. But now they could each be just one blown tire away (no one ever blows a tire at Darlington, do they?) in either of these last two races from not making the Chase.

In the Camping World Truck Series, we’ve heard plenty about William Byron, and we know there are other talented drivers in that very competitive series. You can certainly count Brett Moffitt as one of those, too. Moffitt led the only lap that mattered Saturday, the last one, for his first victory in one of NASCAR’s top three series. The only bummer about the race was that the rain delay pushed the finish of it and the XFINIT race to almost the exact same time, so you really could watch only one of them live.

While it’s good to hear that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is making progress in his recovery from concussion symptoms, and he’s to be commended for taking the time to make sure he is all right before getting back into the car, the sport is not the same without its most popular driver. While others like Larson, Elliott and Ryan Blaney will help keep the sport popular for years to come, it’s still good for the sport to have an Earnhardt on the track. Here’s hoping he can get back on the track this season.

The Sprint Cup Series goes to Darlington for its throwback weekend. Darlington is quite the different track, and veterans tend to do better there than the young guys. So, this week, I’m going to say Tony Stewart gets his first win at the Lady in Black, making it his 50th overall. The deep sleeper underdog is Greg Biffle, who has one top 10 and an average finish of 11.5 in the 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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