Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Are 1-Race Wonders Being Rewarded in NASCAR?

1. How important are the first 26 races, anyway?

Before Sunday, Denny Hamlin probably was not a heavy pre-race favorite unless you leaned toward the feeling of nostalgia with it being a hometown race for the Virginia driver.

It’s safe to say that the No.11 car’s win came out of nowhere, as Hamiln didn’t even have a top-10 finish before Sunday.

Much like a driver who runs so-so most of the season but wins in a single race that’s a departure from the norm, Sunday at Richmond totally changes the dynamic of Hamlin’s season. It’s gone from a team that needs to right the boat soon to the pressure being off from now through Labor Day Weekend at Darlington.

That’s all well and good for Hamlin, but it does little to hammer home how important the first 26 races of the season are. Unless a driver just flatlines and finishes an average of 25th, a fluke win gets them into the Playoffs, which does little to convince anyone that races 1-26 have much weight.

The current system rewards a race win, but not going for a win each week. For example, if Bubba Wallace would have won Atlanta, as he was in a position to do late, he’d be postseason-bound despite the 23 team being a non-factor at tracks not using restrictor-plate tracks.

NASCAR should be about seasons. Right now, however, it rewards blips on the radar.

2. Is WWT Raceway in a no-win situation?

You only have one chance to make a first impression. When racetracks host a first big-time event, that importance is raised even more. Two tracks (though one no longer hosts NASCAR events), Kentucky Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, had their first event weekends with Cup races marred by traffic debacles. Over time, Texas recovered. The traffic woes from Kentucky’s first race can’t be pointed to as a reason that NASCAR no longer races there, but it didn’t help.

Here’s where Worldwide Technology Raceway, known better as Gateway to Busch Series diehards of the 1990s and 2000s, comes in.

Last week, the track reminded fans that all parking for this June’s event must be purchased in advance.

In a sport where one of the perks at some facilities is free parking, this is something that, if not executed the right way, could end the St. Louis market’s future of hosting a premier series event and question if there is a way forward for a street course race in Chicago,

3. Could Trackhouse Racing open the new race team floodgates?

Think about this for a second: Three years ago, Trackhouse Racing Team didn’t exist. Now, it’s one of the most consistent teams in the NASCAR Cup Series garage. This is much more than just a team that took over Chip Ganassi Racing. Sure, Jamie McMurray won a couple of crown jewel races in a single year, and Kyle Larson won a handful of times for CGR, but you never saw a run this consistent for Ganassi’s team since Sterling Marlin’s charge for a championship in 2002.

With the way that Trackhouse is running — going from saying that wins will come following Atlanta and backing that belief at COTA — could make other teams pondering a foray into the Cup Series think that it’s as easy as just getting who you perceive as the right people and personnel.

Trackhouse could very well create a situation in NASCAR’s top division of “not enough rooms at the inn,” with even more teams courting a spot in NASCAR’s top division, thus making qualifying mean something once again. There are, no doubt, teams that could make a jump. JR Motorsports? What about 23XI expanding?

The sky is the limit, and it’s been raised by Trackhouse.

4. Who are the real Elliott and Larson?

A year ago, Kyle Larson won 10 times. So far this year, victory lane has happened just once for the California native. Two years ago, Chase Elliott won a career-high five times, including late-season wins at Martinsville and Phoenix to capture the title.

Then, there’s this year for the past two winners of the title in NASCAR’s top division. Both have run near the front, but not at their previous level. Heck, it’s now been a full year since Elliott’s last win on a non-road course.

That begs the question. Who are the real Elliott and Larson? Did both figure out how to capture lightning in a bottle? Was there an advantage that one or both had that somehow vanished to bring them back down to earth as a pretty good, but not elite driver? Or is Hendrick a strong enough team that is can almost seemingly take turns with one driver as the standard-bearer, as William Byron appears to be this year?

If we’re having this conversation as of June, the narrative of both being past champions that had all go right for them at the right time will be a strong one.

5. Should Richmond host the All-Star Race?

Let’s be clear here: Richmond is not a short track. It’s like the “new Atlanta” in a sense in that it races like a 1.5-miler in closer quarters, much like Atlanta races like a 2.5-mile restrictor-plate track.

It’s not a beating and banging bullring like Martinsville and Bristol, and that’s not a bad thing.

By and large, it puts on a better race than 1.5-mile tracks. Given that, and the close proximity for teams and race fans, there’s only one simple argument: Richmond should get a shot to host the All-Star Race.

We’ve had enough gimmicks and shots in the dark hoping some field invert or stage lengths will give us an exciting race. The All-Star Race, as Bristol showed us, needs a short track in distance, and Richmond provides the perfect storm for all elements.

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Kicks

Richmond? The races at Fontana and Vegas were both more interesting than the snoozefest that Richmond put on this past weekend. Richmond should lose a race, not add the All-Star event.

CeeGee

Richmond is a NASCAR track. SMI has the All-Star race. Not likely that NASCAR is going to take away a date from their biggest track partner. If it moves from Texas, it’ll likely be to another SMI track. Since North Wilkesboro doesn’t appear to be getting anything beyond a possible truck date after the remodel is completed, it would make a great venue for an All-Star Race & it’s an SMI track.

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