1. Brad Keselowski looks like he has plenty left in the tank
It took Brad Keselowski until mid-June last year, his first with RFK Racing, to record his second top-10 finish. He performed better during the second half of the 2022 season and some of the playoff races in which he was not contending for the title. But it was hard to determine whether he was just experiencing the expected growing pains with a new team or just sliding into the twilight of his NASCAR Cup Series career.
Based on his start to the 2023 campaign, the growing pains are looking a lot more likely. Keselowski looked like he was headed for a win at Atlanta Motor Speedway until he was passed by former teammate Joey Logano on the final lap. He still came home a strong second, leading more laps than everyone but the eventual race winner.
It doesn’t look like a fluke. Yes, as mentioned, Atlanta is very superspeedway-esque now, and Keselowski has always been great at that style of racing. He led plenty of laps in this year’s Daytona 500 too, until he was inevitably involved in a wreck.
Much more telling is that he led laps at Auto Club Speedway and ended up seventh. In all, he’s been up front for 97 laps in 2023, fifth-most among Cup Series drivers and second to only Logano in the Ford camp. Keselowski is also one of only six drivers with a stage win so far.
There’s a lot of season left, but Keselowski and RFK look like they’ve built on their experience last year to step it up to where he is a threat to make the playoffs and maybe even more than that. We’re sorry we ever doubted you, Brad.
2. Ford was fast and Chevy slow. Coincidence? Think so.
The Ambetter Health 400 final running order, and really the race as a whole, was a conspiracy theorist’s dream.
Chevrolet drivers had won the first four points-paying Cup Series races of the year heading into Atlanta. Fords were in disarray, looking outclassed pretty much everywhere.
Then the top Chevy organization, Hendrick Motorsports, got slapped with a pretty hefty penalty that introduced NASCAR fandom to the world of louvers (with Kaulig Racing also caught up in it). All of a sudden, Fords were ruling the roost at Atlanta. From qualifying, where they claimed the top eight starting spots, to the race itself, where Logano took the checkered flag.
So obviously, the Chevrolets have to play by the rules now and aren’t able to dominate, right?
As much fun as it would be to play into this fantasy, that’s almost certainly not the case. Much more likely is that Ford is simply locked in for superspeedway racing. You may recall that Logano nearly won the Daytona 500 and his fellow blue oval drivers led plenty of laps combined.
Atlanta is now a superspeedway in every way but track length now, and that was evident again this weekend. With a road course coming up followed by several short tracks (one covered with dirt), the next few weeks will make it a lot more clear if the manufacturer disparity is trending in the right direction overall.
A month from now at Talladega Superspeedway, though, you’d expect to see Fords flexing again if something doesn’t change.
3. Josh Williams is about to find out if any publicity really is good publicity
Josh Williams isn’t a driver known to people outside dedicated NASCAR fans. Or at least he wasn’t until this past weekend when he executed the park job heard ’round the world.
As a quick recap, Williams’ No. 92 DGM Racing Chevy was involved in an accident fairly early on in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Atlanta. His team tried to fix it, but the car dropped more debris on the track right after a restart, and NASCAR told him to park it, citing the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
Williams parked it alright — but at the start/finish line instead of the garage, throwing up the deuces (a peace sign) with a bit of a smirk as he walked across the infield.
To say he got some attention with his stunt is a bit of an understatement. The tweet below, from the NASCAR Xfinity account, has more than 2 million views.
But there’s no question that Williams got people talking, including media outlets that would never otherwise care about an Xfinity Series race. The top levels of stock car racing are trickier to navigate than ever, and an argument can certainly be made that with sponsorship dollars ruling all, name recognition is more important than performance.
A lot more people know Williams now than they did before Atlanta. Unless the penalty he receives is particularly draconian, it’s quite possible the upside outweighs a punishment.
4. Jordan Taylor is one to watch at COTA
The glory days of road course ringers are long gone — ironically at a time when there are more road course races on the Cup Series schedule than ever — but Hendrick Motorsports is turning to one for this weekend’s race at COTA. It will be Jordan Taylor, not Josh Berry, filling in for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Chevrolet.
Taylor is an accomplished racer across multiple disciplines, with multiple IMSA SportsCar Championships on his resume. But in a sport where fans often bemoan the lack of drivers who show their true personalities, he happens to be a nonstop entertainer well worth following on Twitter or Instagram.
If you don’t know him already, definitely Google “Rodney Sandstorm.” Just trust me.
While he’s never made a start in any NASCAR series, Taylor couldn’t be entering a better situation for dipping his toes into top-level stock car racing. Keep an eye on how he does at COTA.
5. What do we make of Austin Hill?
There have been several Xfinity Series drivers who got hot and won a bunch of races over the last few seasons. Noah Gragson won four in a row last year en route to eight total. Austin Cindric claimed three straight victories and five in a six-race span in 2020.
But no one has won three of the first five Xfinity races in a season since 2016, and the driver who did it then, Kyle Busch, was not a series regular. Which is to say that what Austin Hill is doing in 2023 to date is extremely impressive.
It’s not completely shocking, though, as Hill showed he knows the way to victory lane the last three years in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. This is leveling up, to be sure, but not completely out of the blue.
Hill will turn 29 next month, so he’s not a prospect. He’s not one of the first drivers who gets mentioned when silly season rolls around. There’s no obvious place for him to slide up into the Cup Series next year unless Richard Childress Racing expands to three cars, and there’s been no indication that’s even being considered.
Yet if he keeps this up, he’s going to force people to take notice. There are a lot worse gambles to take with a Cup Series seat than a proven winner, and Hill is on pace to embody that phrase when this year is all said and done.
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The cars of Mr. H had legal louvers on their cars on Sunday. The way the cars ran seems to imply that whatever they got away with didn’t work and won’t be tried again.
Once again, it was a pack race. The ultimate NASCAR crapshoot. Larson was running second when he got taken out by Almarillo’s tire. Byron and Bowman got taken out in another wreck. How can you prove anything from that.?
When they get to a real 1.5 mile track and languish at the back the entire race, then you can make that argument.
pretty sad to think a 29 yr old might not have a chance at a cup ride unless a team starts a 3rd team.
RE; Don’t Write Off Brad Keselowski Yet….
I didn’t realize anyone had.