Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: A Tale of 2 Terrible Recent Tenures

In every sport, motorsport included, there are times where some players/drivers just aren’t at their best. For whatever reason, they don’t have it right now.

In baseball, they call it the yips: when a player is in such a funk that it’s almost like he’s forgotten how to play the game itself. Markelle Fultz completely forgot how to shoot a basketball and even got a J. Cole shout out for doing so.

While Christopher Bell and Michael McDowell probably won’t get a J. Cole shout out of their own, they have seemingly forgotten how to be competitive racecar drivers over the course of the last few weeks if one just takes a peek at the numbers. However, the entire point of this column is to go a bit deeper than that, isn’t it? Then by all means, let’s.

Bell has an average finish of 31.0 in his last four starts. If that number seems staggering because of Bell’s success since the introduction of the Next Gen cars, it should. Bell is already locked into the playoffs with his win at Phoenix earlier this season, but dating back to Richmond, he’s finished 35th, 17th, 38th and 34th, respectively.

The entire fault here, though, doesn’t rely on the driver. This past week at Dover, Bell was caught in an untimely crash involving Bubba Wallace and William Byron. Bell had a fast car up until that point, too, despite running over debris in qualifying.

That day served as the perfect microcosm for how Bell’s season has gone thus far. Toyota looks like the manufacturer to beat early on this season, with wins on eight different occasions thus far in the season (counting the Duels). As stated earlier, Bell holds one of those winning spots, but he currently sits 17th in the points standings. Like an MLB slugger neck deep in a slump, Joe Gibbs Racing and the rest of Toyota just have to hope he grinds it out. After all, he’s done it before.

One driver that hasn’t been able to grind it out, though, is McDowell. Whereas Bell has had a troubled past four races, McDowell has had a troubled past six, with an average finish of 31.7 during that span.

Remember after the first two races of the season when everyone thought Ford was going to be the team to beat with the freshly redesigned Mustang? Remember when the narrative was that maybe, just maybe, Front Row Motorsports had figured something out? Pepperidge Farms remembers.

Since Circuit of the Americas, McDowell has been on a tear, but not the good kind of tear. He’s been on the kind of tear that would get your uncle removed from the family reunion invite list, or to keep with the baseball terminology, bumped back down for a “rehab stint.” To put it lightly, he’s hit a rough patch.

To top it off, McDowell has been close to beating the slump when he led the most laps of the race at Talladega. What the last weeks have shown is that might have been a game in which he hit a bloop single or two against the backside of the bullpen.

It goes deeper with McDowell’s situation, though. It comes down to equipment. Whereas Bell’s last few finishes can be chalked up to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, McDowell hasn’t been close enough to even be in the wrong place.

If that sounds confusing, think of this. That statistic where Toyota has won eight races this year if the Duels are included is impressive. What’s arguably more impressive is that Ford hasn’t had a winning Cup race day yet. The blue oval boys have qualified well, sure, but they haven’t been able to put it together when it’s counted.

McDowell is one of these aforementioned blue oval boys, and they’ve had their hands full with this new car. There are complaints that it doesn’t want to turn, that the aerodynamics don’t help it anywhere outside of a superspeedway, and that the car might just be a dud. While that last one may be a bit extreme, the first two are genuine concerns that need to be addressed sooner rather than later if Ford wants one of its drivers to repeat as champion.

About the author

Tanner Marlar is a staff writer for On3 Sports' Maroon and White Daily covering Mississippi State Athletics, an AP Wire reporter, an award-winning sports columnist and talk show host and master's student at Mississippi State University. Soon, Tanner will be pursuing a PhD. in Communicative Research.

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I’m really concerned for Ford right now. They are still winless in all three series this year.

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