Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: How Have the Short Tracks Been So Far in 2018?

What does Daniel Hemric’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut in the No. 8 mean for NASCAR?

Simple: It means another racer has worked his way up into a good ride for their Cup Series audition.

Daniel Hemric was strong for NTS Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series, finishing seventh in points in 2015. That led to getting a ride with Brad Keselowski Racing in 2016 and improving his results there, finishing sixth in points. After scoring a promotion to the XFINITY Series in 2017 with Richard Childress Racing, he finished fourth in the standings last season.

Hemric drove to third- and fourth-place finishes in both Richmond Raceway races last season, so it’s a good track to make his Cup debut at. His driving style isn’t flashy, but he keeps the car clean, which fits the Childress template.

Now, here’s the thing: A lot of fans will likely be upset that the No. 8 will be used, but look, it’s just a number. Numbers change and get reused all the time in sports, and it’s had a long-enough rest;  after all, the last time the No. 8 was driven was in 2009 by Aric Almirola, and over 90 drivers not named Dale Earnhardt Jr. have raced it in NASCAR’s premier series.

Much ado about nothing, in other words.

How has Cup’s short-track racing been so far this season? 

That will be easier to answer after this weekend, because weather messed up the spring visits to Martinsville Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway. While the results were typical (Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch emerged victorious), the racing quality was pretty good, while viewership was slightly down, as to be expected on a Monday race.

Weather aside, the reaction on social media post-Martinsville and -Bristol have been mostly rave reviews. Surprising? Not exactly, as many have been clamoring for more short tracks for years now. But luckily, the general consensus on the first two short tracks seem to be positive, which bodes well for Richmond Raceway this weekend.

Short tracks typically have better racing than the cookie cutters, so it’s a shame that the weather has playing havoc so far. But the forecast for Richmond is clear Saturday night, which is a plus.

Has Chevrolet gotten up to speed with the Camaro ZL1?

Not quite, but it’s getting closer. After all, at Bristol last weekend, Darrell Wallace Jr. led laps and Kyle Larson nearly won (again).

Meanwhile, Jamie McMurray has found more speed, and William Byron has shown flashes of excellence. Hendrick Motorsports had cars running up front for most of the Bristol marathon, which saw Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman record their first top fives of the season. Ryan Newman has been steadily hanging around in the top 10-15 range all season and might be able to point his way into the playoffs.

And if nothing else, Austin Dillon is locked into the playoffs already with his Daytona 500 win, so that should be an a manufacturer-wide confidence boost.

But that confidence can only last so long. That being said, Chevy seems to be on the upturn. In a few weeks time, we may forget we were even questioning its prowess.

What are some good storylines to follow at Richmond?

There would be redemption for Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. if either could win Saturday night, putting Spingate behind them (not that Truex hasn’t already). Both drivers already have wins this season, so another would for sure lock them into the playoffs and, more importantly, keep bonus playoff points away from everyone else. Mentally, though, a win at Richmond for either of them would be enormously beneficial.

The spring race last year was Joey Logano‘s last win to date, and it would be especially sweet success for him to win here this year, given the way the rest of his 2017 season went. Team Penske has started off 2018 strong, but it still hasn’t parked one of its cars in Victory Lane yet, so a win for any of its drivers would be huge for the organization.

Larson’s last win came in the fall race last year, and since then he’s had something like four DNFs, and about as many races he nearly won but didn’t. It would be huge for the No. 42 bunch to get back to winning.

Finally, what if this is the race that a driver like Bowman, Byron, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez or Wallace gets his first win? That would be a big story for any of them.

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