1. Denny Hamlin Has No Problem Being the Bad Guy
There are two types of villains: those who embrace the mantle and those who shy away from it.
Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 team are embracing it with open arms.
Remember at Darlington Raceway when Rick Hendrick appeared to have finally had enough of Ross Chastain banging his cars around? And, shortly after, what amounted to a mea culpa from Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks for Chastain’s driving? Oh, and the coincidental drop off in on-track run-ins involving Chastain even since?
Then there was Hamlin on Sunday (July 23) at Pocono Raceway. Much like when Kyle Busch was with Joe Gibbs Racing, Hamlin seemed to be craving all of the fan outrage directed toward him, even gesturing to the crowd to egg them on.
Hamlin’s message to the crowd was simple: You don’t like what I just did … and I couldn’t care less about your feelings.
The best bad guys are the ones who tightly wear the proverbial black hat. And with run-ins in the past few years including two of the sport’s most popular drivers, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott, you may as well cue up Hamlin’s Bristol Motor Speedway driver intro song as the WCW NWO theme, because as the late pro wrestling legend Scott Hall noted, “Bad times don’t last, but bad guys do.”
2. Justin Haley’s Move Raises Profile of Rick Ware Racing
Without even turning a lap, Rick Ware Racing’s profile was raised last week with Justin Haley’s announcement that he’ll be moving over from Kaulig Racing to the RWR stable in 2024.
On the surface, it sounds outrageous. How could it be seen as a good thing for a driver, regardless of reasons, to be moving from Kaulig, a team with wins in NASCAR’s top two divisions to a RWR operation that has appeared at times to be going to a gunfight with a Swiss Army knife?
But building success takes time. Remember, there was a time when Front Row Motorsports was an afterthought aside from races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, and now Michael McDowell is in a position to get into the postseason on points.
An overall body of work is what a team needs to be successful, and that comes with being able to attract talent. Results or not, having Ryan Newman drive from RWR this year a few times helped, and having a driver who has multiple wins in the top levels of NASCAR does not hurt either.
Haley joining RWR sends a message that the goal is to do more than just ride around and log laps when the team has the tools to step up its program, and getting proven talent on board goes a long way toward that.
3. It’s Hard to Find a More Sentimental Playoff Contender Than Michael McDowell
The window is rapidly closing for spots in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. If the field was set today, Bubba Wallace and McDowell would get the final two spots. Of course, those efforts could be undone by a driver outside the top 16 getting a win to get a postseason spot for themselves.
But when it comes to sentimental favorites who get into the postseason and have a legitimate chance, that focus has to solely rest on McDowell.
It’s one thing to do what McDowell has done previously and get in the postseason with a win. More impressive, though, is doing so by way of points over 26 races, and McDowell is in a position to do that.
FRM does not have the wherewithal of teams it’s competing against for the final few postseason spots. Other teams have more resources, and the expectation is that drivers like Daniel Suarez and Wallace from Trackhouse and 23XI Racing, respectively, should make the playoffs with what they have to work with.
Depending on how the next few races go, FRM and the No. 34 team could go from the little team that could to the little team that can.
4. Daniel Suarez Should Put All of His Postseason Eggs in the Indy/Watkins Glen Basket
Suarez is a proven road course ace, as shown by last year’s win at Sonoma Raceway. And with two road course events coming next month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Watkins Glen International, Suarez and Trackhouse would be well-served to put all their cards on the table and go for broke at those two races.
Yes, Daytona is a crapshoot, but do you really want to pin your postseason spot hopes in a game of racing roulette?
Outside of Talladega and Atlanta Motor Speedway, Suarez has one top 10 since the second race of the season at Auto Club Speedway. After failing to finish on Sunday at Pocono, the No. 99 is 23 points below the cut line in 18th place overall.
Could Suarez put a win together at Richmond Raceway or Michigan International Speedway? Sure. But the closest sure thing for a win would be at a road course.
5. Throwing Items on the Track Is Embarrassing, No Matter What
One of the best things about NASCAR fans is their passion for the sport, but that can sometimes come from unintended consequences.
And one of those could force the end of post-race interviews at the start/finish line.
As Hamlin celebrated a win that was apparently unpopular with many individuals, his victory burnout was also marked by an object being thrown at his No. 11.
This isn’t the only recent moment of fandom going overboard and sending something over the fence.
John Hunter Nemechek had a full can of beer land near him after a win last year in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Seat cushions and beer cans have also been hurled onto the track in fits of fan outrage in previous years.
I don’t care if you are mad about a race winner, the race finishing under caution or anything else. There is no excuse to throw objects on the track, especially at something or somebody.
It’s embarrassing for the sport, and anyone doing so should be barred from ever entering the gates of a NASCAR event again as a paying customer.
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