Did You Notice? … The differences between two sides of the same coin on Sunday (June 4)?
Halfway through 2023, it’s hard not to say there isn’t already a favorite for comeback driver of the year.
After a couple of comparatively low-performing years, this legendary driver had finally decided to leave the team he had twice won the championship with. Although he hasn’t been lights-out, his performances have been a major talking point to start off the year.
The driver has a reputation as a testy personality who could explode at any given moment on his team. And yet, despite all odds, that hasn’t been the case so far.
What’s more as well is that these performances have been somewhat at the expense of his veteran, but still young, teammate. The teammate is there, of course, due to unspoken but fairly obvious nepotism, which has led some to claim that he’s holding the team back. Indeed, perhaps there could be a better driver in that seat.
Sure, Busch has won three races and Alonso hasn’t. But that’s primarily due to how far ahead Red Bull Racing is in F1. Completely ignoring Red Bull, Alonso would have won four out of seven races so far this season.
There hasn’t been much talk this season of Dillon weighing down RCR, at least not nearly as much as there has been of Stroll weighing down AMF1. But the stats say otherwise.
Case in point: Busch has finished ahead of Dillon in 12 out of 15 races this season. And two of the races Dillon finished ahead of Busch featured an early exit for “Rowdy.”
But the key point is remarkably simple: just perform.
And that’s exactly what Stroll did this past Sunday at Spanish Grand Prix, in which he finished sixth and Alonso finished seventh. Yes, Alonso didn’t race him hard in the closing laps. But Stroll was able to keep pace with Alonso on a day that the Aston Martin cars were just a bit off. That should quiet things down just a tad bit for a couple of weeks or so.
Dillon, later on that day and on the other side of the world at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, did almost the complete opposite. As his veteran teammate celebrated another victory, Dillon very loudly told Frontstretch that the car he moved up on turned him and that that car’s driver should be suspended.
The video evidence was dodgy at best. Austin Cindric, the driver in question, is one of just two guys named Austin who have won the Daytona 500 and is the only one who didn’t right-hook somebody on the last lap for the accomplishment (though he did wall his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney). He produced the smoking gun of the Gateway issue on Twitter.
The contrast between Stroll’s and Dillon’s weekends really couldn’t be much different, no matter how similar their situations are. The trick that Stroll has learned, and Dillon hasn’t, is to not make waves. Head down and do the job, win or lose. Whether this was a temporary loss of judgement for Dillon or a sign of frustration over just how good his teammate is remains to be seen.
Did You Notice? … The end of the “sacred cows”?
This weekend, the NASCAR Xfinity Series will finally race at Sonoma Raceway.
It’s strange to see a track that has been on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar for so long finally make an appearance in the lower series, especially considering the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has gone there a handful of times.
Logistically, though, it made sense. It only made sense for teams to not bear the cost of following Cup out to the West Coast in June.
However, there were two factors that attributed to this debut. The first is that Trucks were given the nod to support Cup at North Wilkesboro Speedway last month over NXS. This freed up a Speedway Motorsports date on the NXS schedule, so it only made sense to fill it the next month.
The other is that the standalone race at Portland International Raceway, while entertaining the first and now second year, is a bit of a money sink for teams. That trip makes a little more financial sense if there includes a swing down south to Sonoma.
Sonoma was the last of the so-called “sacred cows” of NXS. For many seasons, there were a number of tracks Cup visited that Xfinity simply did not. Among those were Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway and, for the longest time, Martinsville Speedway (though the series did go there in its early days).
And now, with Sonoma crossed off, there is no Cup facility that NXS hasn’t visited (I’m not counting the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.) The lone configuration that NXS hasn’t had at least one race on? That would be the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track.
This weekend, the last of the cows is finally brought in. In February, it’ll be served for hospitality during the “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner 300” at Daytona International Speedway. Because, ultimately, nothing is sacred anymore.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off …
- Ross Chastain definitely seems to have cooled down a bit. After crossing a line a few weeks ago at Darlington Raceway that got to the point of even Rick Hendrick publicly criticizing him, Chastain had largely quiet days at North Wilkesboro, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Gateway outside of an early-race incident with Michael McDowell on Sunday. He hasn’t finished well and has fallen from first to fifth in regular season points, which could cost him some much-needed playoff points once the regular season wraps up.
- Carson Hocevar might have made some people nervous on Sunday. It’ll be interesting to see how he makes it up to Cup, if he does; he’s a Chevrolet-affiliated driver right now, but the bowtie has a number of seats pretty locked in place. Perhaps a move to blue ovals could turn out to be a pretty savvy move for the young driver.
About the author
Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.
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