1. Is Kyle Larson receiving a double standard?
If not for a late-race turn of events, Saturday’s (June 10) NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Sonoma Raceway would have given us a familiar sight: a walkover win by Kyle Larson.
Even so, it was clear that the No. 17 had the best car when he unloaded, at one point being one second quicker than the rest of the field in practice.
That comes as no surprise. Larson is perhaps the most talented driver in the sport today, and to say that running Hendrick Motorsports equipment is an unfair fight is a gross understatement.
Larson sealed the deal in his only other Xfinity start this year, taking the victory at Darlington Raceway. It’s a similar tale in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series where, in his only start this year at North Wilkesboro Speedway, Larson — you guessed it — dominated.
He’s not not the only NASCAR Cup Series driver to take advantage of a chance in the lower series. Kyle Busch, also one of the sport’s most talented drivers, racked up wins in NASCAR’s two lower series and became the poster child for needing to limit drivers in those series below the Cup level.
It may be the reason for Busch’s dominance or it may be coincidental, but limits were placed on how many times a driver could race in a lower series. So far, though, criticism of Larson beating up on the field in support races has been mostly muted.
Is it because Larson gained more acclaim during his time away from NASCAR when he seemingly raced anywhere he could? Possibly. Is it because Busch attracted disdain from fans almost by default? Also possible.
At least to this point, criticism of Larson whipping lower series has not mounted, begging the question: are fans applying a double standard to Larson because he’s not Busch?
2. Who’s more rejuvenated, Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr.?
Speaking of Busch, he and Martin Truex Jr. have one more thing in common: going into this week’s off weekend, the two drivers, one a current Joe Gibbs Racing driver and another formerly part of the team, have two wins this season.
In interviews this year, both appear more carefree or at ease, which can be speculated as having to do with off-track factors being different now than a year ago.
Last year was a year of transition for JGR between Busch’s eventual exit and Ty Gibbs replacing him. Busch seems relaxed in a fresh start, and for whatever reason, Truex seems to be finding his groove as well.
It may be only June, but the title could very easily come down to two drivers making the most of a fresh 2023.
3. Are Atlanta and Nashville must-wins for Chase Elliott?
The clock is ticking on Chase Elliott‘s postseason hopes.
Although a top five at Sonoma is good for momentum, that does little for the No. 9 team. It needs a win, pure and simple.
If you are an Elliott fan, though, you have to feel pretty bullish about these next few races coming off the weekend off. Sandwiched around the Chicago street course are Nashville Superspeedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, both tracks that Elliott won at last year.
Yes, other road courses are yet to come aside from Chicago with stops coming at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Watkins Glen International. But Elliott is no longer the road course master of even two years ago. Since the start of 2021, Elliott has gone from nearly an automatic win on road courses to pretty good. He scored two 2021 wins at Circuit of the Americas and Road America, and the former of those was shortened by rain. Pretty good is good for points, but not when the mentality is win or in.
For that reason, a lack of a win at Nashville or Atlanta could move the playoff hopes for Elliott away from concern to thinking about reaching for a panic button.
4. Has Trackhouse Racing taken a step back?
Fueled in part by Ross Chastain‘s Hail Melon, it was understandable for Trackhouse Racing to have higher expectations this season. Both Chastain and Daniel Suarez logged wins last year, and both were playoff drivers.
This year? Chastain is amid a winless drought going back more than a year, though he has enough points to be in the top five for now. Suarez, meanwhile, is mired in 17th.
Chastain is probably safe for a playoff spot, but as last year showed us, you don’t want to assume there will be fewer than 16 winners.
Trackhouse made an impact last year with its success but so far is trying to find a way to make that next step. Not having both drivers in the playoffs would be a step back in that regard.
5. Is Kyle Busch the new Darrell Waltrip?
If you followed racing in the 1980s, you are aware of how the perception of Darrell Waltrip changed.
Once a brash driver who’d seemingly say anything, earning the nickname of Jaws, his move to Hendrick Motorsports to drive the Tide-sponsored car ended up, partly by coincidence, cleaning up his image.
Of course, being wrecked by Rusty Wallace at The Winston in 1989 did not hurt that ascension.
If you became a fan of the sport in the 1990s, you had no knowledge from real-time experience of Waltrip being disliked, for the most part.
That puts him in an even plane with Busch. Once a frequent target of boos, Busch this year, at least from judging multiple driver introduction reactions, had had a new leaf turned over for him by fans.
Is it sympathy for no longer being at JGR? Is it a desire for longtime fans to see Richard Childress Racing thrive again? Or is it simply due to driving a Chevy?
Whatever it is, it’s hard not to compare Busch and Waltrip’s later careers to each other.
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