ONE: Curtains For Kasey
In what was far from a surprise announcement, news hit yesterday Kasey Kahne will not be returning to Hendrick Motorsports in 2018. The organization released him with a full year left on his contract.
It’s fair to say that the partnership has not worked out as well as either party would have hoped when this former top-tier prospect joined the organization in 2012. That’s best evidenced by Kahne’s numbers: six wins (four of which came in his first two seasons), 45 top fives, 73 top 10s and five poles in 166 races. The previous driver of the No. 5 car, Mark Martin, earned five wins and seven poles in just his first season with the team.
“Kasey has worked extremely hard,” said team owner Rick Hendrick by way of a news release. “He’s a tremendous teammate and person, and he has been totally dedicated to our program since day one. I’ve always believed that he’s a special talent, and I know he will thrive in the right situation. We will do everything we can to finish the season as strong as we can.”
You probably won’t find many in the garage (or the stands for that matter) who would disagree with that sentiment. So the real question is where did it all go wrong since it wasn’t a lack of effort on Kahne’s or the team’s part. To that I say the old adage, attributed to Roman philosopher Seneca, which states that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
Perhaps, in Kahne’s case he just didn’t get the “luck” that he needed. Another point of view comes from my buddy Jason, a diehard longtime Kahne fan who argues that the driver’s best days came when he was with underdog teams. At now-defunct Evernham Motorsports and Red Bull Racing (where he picked up one of their only two wins in 324 races of trying) he was in a position of leadership. That clearly wasn’t the case with HMS.
All that being said, here’s hoping that Kahne lands in a great ride for next year (how about the No. 77 of Furniture Row) and gets a chance to showcase his undoubted ability to wheel a race car. The win at Indy last month proved to everyone this veteran can still get the job done.
TWO: Road Courses Matter More (In 2018)
Up until now, the two Cup road courses on the schedule — Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen — have been something of a beautiful “left and right” distraction. Sure, a win there can get you into the playoffs but outside of that, they’re not relevant at the sharp end of the season.
But next year, with the addition of the Charlotte Motor Speedway “roval” to the ten-race playoff picture, it’s a completely different story. Road racing will be a crucial discipline as it will become race number five (of ten) in the postseason.
The argument for the inclusion of a road course in the playoffs has been a vigorous and sustained conversation and it’s rare to find a NASCAR fan that doesn’t have an opinion one way or the other. Given that Sonoma is my local track, I’ll admit I’m somewhat biased but I, for one, am delighted to see that a road course will be a huge part of defining who wins the 2018 title. It will be interesting to see if teams approach Sonoma and Watkins Glen in different ways next season and of course the massive unknown that is the Charlotte “roval” just adds more fuel to the proverbial fire.
THREE: Four to Go
Speaking of fun things to watch unfold, the next four races could be very interesting from a playoff perspective as drivers gamble on all-important stage wins ahead of the final ten races. Plus, we have four unique tracks coming up, including what I think is arguably the best three-race stretch in the entire season. First on the list, it’s Michigan International Speedway, the last regular season cookie-cutter oval (more on that in the next point). From there, it’s the short track high banks of Thunder Valley, Bristol Motor Speedway, the jewel that is Darlington Raceway and then we finish up the regular season at Richmond International Raceway.
Put another way, these are four distinct and different challenges for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers – each of which bring their own peculiar and challenging set of problems. With 14 winners already, there is still a possibility for 17 unique winners — Clint Bowyer, Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray in particular are all still looking for one. But with the way that Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have been running, I wouldn’t be surprised if those two both picked up a pair of victories as well.
Either way, as the regular season runs its course, I’m looking forward to what we see on track over the next month.
FOUR: Next Up, Michigan
Next up, we head to the Irish Hills and Michigan, the two-mile D-shaped oval for the second of two trips this season. When we last visited in mid-June, it was Kyle Larson who led a race best 96 of 200 laps on the way to his third (of three) career victories. Worth noting, too, is that all three of Larson’s wins have come at two-mile tracks (Michigan and Auto Club Speedway) so he should probably be a lock for your fantasy team this weekend.
Michigan is a track where speed absolutely matters so you’re probably looking at the usual top-tier suspects to make it to Victory Lane on Sunday afternoon. This race will be number 97 at the track for the Cup Series, a streak that stretches all the way back to the first race in 1969 won by Hall of Famer and NASCAR legend Cale Yarborough. Amongst active drivers, Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth lead the way with three wins apiece. You can bet your last dollar Kenseth, sitting on the playoff bubble hopes to make that four this Sunday.
FIVE: A Peek At The Future
In the last couple weeks, we’ve seen NASCAR hold qualifying and the race on the same day. It’s an interesting format, for sure, but perhaps it’s all part of a bigger move toward having two-day (and not three) race weekends in 2018 and beyond.
“I think that is a really good experience for fans in terms of having that support race and being able to see the Monster Energy Series drivers qualify,” noted NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell. “The biggest thing for us is to create those unique, fun fan experiences around the drivers and open up access as much as we can.”
Amen to that, Mr. O’Donnell, amen to that.
About the author
Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.
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