Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Is Chase Elliott in Danger of Being Second Fiddle at Hendrick?

1. Does William Byron’s Success Raise Pressure Even Higher for Chase Elliott?

Anything that happened in 2020 feels like a long time ago. Truthfully, a lot of things from the state of global affairs then are items that many would love to forget.

But since the end of that year, when Chase Elliott lifted the trophy at Phoenix Raceway as the NASCAR Cup Series champion, it’s fair to say that the dynamic at Hendrick Motorsports has changed.

Being a champion makes you a standard-bearer for a team until you are not.

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Since the end of that season, two key things have happened: Kyle Larson won the 2021 title at a blistering pace, and William Byron, the driver of Elliott’s former number, ironically, has hit on something strong. Last year, Byron got the dubious title of winning the most races but coming up short of a title. Monday night (Feb. 19)? Hendrick’s 40th anniversary season kicked off with not Elliott or Larson, but Byron winning the sport’s biggest race.

That only adds fuel to the fact that Byron’s meter in the sport and on the Hendrick campus is rising, and Larson is the most recent champion at the team.

With Elliott coming off a disastrous 2023 season, Byron’s win emphasized one fact: that the No. 9 team and Elliott may be another lacking season away from being an afterthought at Hendrick Motorsports.

2. Fans Shouldn’t Have to Wait So Long for Photo Proof of Results

I do not doubt the fact that by a very, very close margin, Byron was the winner of Monday night’s Daytona 500. In the same respect, it’s easy to understand why seeds of doubt were planted, fertilized and augmented with Miracle-Gro after the checkered flag fell.

Questions persisted.

Who was in front?

When did the caution light display?

Why didn’t the caution display earlier?

For context, consider the following timeline:

At 8:04 p.m. ET, NASCAR’s official post on X, formerly known as Twitter, made it official that Byron was the winner.

It was not until 9:02 p.m. ET on the same social media site that NASCAR posted the photo footage used to confirm the result.

That’s right. It took nearly an hour to publicly confirm how the result was reached.

That was well after the NASCAR on FOX broadcast had concluded, thrusting the door wide open for all sorts of black-helicopter conspiracy theories and other thoughts. Simply put, this is something that should have been done much quicker after the checkered flag fell. Despite the race being run on Monday, the passion of NASCAR’s fans was evident as the race ended. NASCAR owes it to those fans to not leave them hanging as a broadcast goes off the air.

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3. There’s No Reason for Atlanta to be This Early in the Season

In advance of the 2015 NASCAR season, when Atlanta Motor Speedway’s lone NASCAR weekend was shifted to the second weekend of the season, it was fair to wonder if it was the beginning of the end for one of NASCAR’s most-revered tracks and its worn surface. With an event in late February/early March as its lone NASCAR weekend per year, AMS was frankly not set up to succeed at a high level.

Over time, Atlanta got stronger odds to thrive, first with a July date and, this year, a September weekend to kick off the NASCAR playoffs. That’s a good thing for Atlanta, which also has a turn to host the sport’s traveling circus this weekend. Unlike previous second-race-of-the-season lineups, AMS does not have to hinge all of its NASCAR hopes on one weekend.

Luckily, the weather looks the opposite of last weekend in rainy Daytona Beach. Still, from all the energy from Monday night, the gears have to shift to Atlanta with many minds still on what happened last week.

If NASCAR is looking to fill a spot on the schedule and nothing more, why not do a three-race swing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Phoenix and Sonoma Raceway and then head to Atlanta?

Two races in a row with the same style of racing are not a good cross-section of the sport if you are drawing new eyes. But the first few being a combo of a superspeedway, an intermediate and a road course? That’s a great mix of tracks.

If NASCAR is giving Atlanta a spring event, it needs to be in a place that’ll give that date a good chance to succeed.

4. This Early-Season Schedule Isn’t Helping Team’s Expenses

It’s great, especially for those with a stake in merchandise sales, that Hendrick Motorsports is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year (in case you missed the countless references during the TV broadcasts last weekend).

Trumpeting the fact that a team has run for a long time in this sport is great. Legendary operations of the past have had various others catch up with them, and those such as DiGard Racing and Junior Johnson & Associates are but a memory. Wood Brothers Racing and Petty Enterprises (even in its current iteration) are but a shell of their glory years.

That’s why it’s important to note someone that has run in this sport so long continues to have success.

At the same time, the question should be asked — is NASCAR making it too hard for newcomers to gain a foothold? You know the old saying, “the best way to make a small fortune in racing is to start with a large one?”

Anyone who has to manage finances for race teams these days can attest to that. So far, we have had teams roll across the good ol’ U.S.A. for a non-points event at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum to come back to get cars likely torn up at two superspeedway events in a row. So much for cost containment.

If NASCAR is really interested in drawing more stakeholders as team owners, then at some point the financial cost of a full season needs to be strongly considered.

5. Could More Practice Sessions Help Reduce Truck Carnage?

Any time that you have an event so rife with cautions as Friday’s (Feb. 16) NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, it’s easy to point fingers to want it to serve as an indictment of the quality of the series.

If you want to cast a large net and call everyone in this series a bunch of knuckleheads, that’s your prerogative. At the end of the day, this is a series, to a degree, for lesser-experienced drivers. That may not have been as true when guys like Ron Hornaday Jr., Bobby Hamilton or Ted Musgrave were around, but it is now.

One thing that can reduce the odds of mistakes on the track from those lacking track time? Experience. That’s why it’s mid-boggling that it was not until 4 p.m. ET Thursday (Feb. 15) that any series had a scheduled practice. Clearly, the chances for more practice dwindled with rain — which is why, maybe, you should add more possible chances to get on the track in case there are the usual pop-up rain showers off the Florida coast.

More practice time won’t solve an epidemic of drivers deciding to demo-derby things up, but it cannot hurt.

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3 Comments
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Echo

2nd fiddle lol. Try 3rd.

Jonathan

Nah I don’t think so. But Chase needs to step up this season.

Jamie A

Such a stupid article

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