With weekday races nearly at end, this week we saw Martin Truex, Jr. win at Bristol and Denny Hamlin winning at Homestead. This was the first win of the season for Truex and Hamlin has now notched three wins to lead all drivers.
After opening the season with a win at Daytona, Hamlin has been riding a roller coaster with his three wins, seven Top 10s, six Top 5s and yet five finishes out of the Top 15 and three out of the Top 20. Compare that to Kevin Harvick who has just one finish outside the Top 20. That tells you why Harvick is your points leader – consistency. If you are running in the Top 5 most of the time, you have a shot at winning way more often.
I thought Hamlin was going to be a bust this year. Some tracks he had speed, other times he didn’t. Even when running in the Top 10 he was not leading many laps. With his win at Homestead, Hamlin nearly doubled the number of laps he has led this year. That should tell you something – that he had a great car at Homestead and that he hasn’t led a lot of laps before that. Which is why I didn’t expect all that much. Now, three wins is awesome but let’s not hand him the trophy quite yet. Yes, he could be considered a favorite going into Talladega, but I need to see more consistent speed from him. If he starts putting up Harvick Top 5 numbers, then we can revisit that.
Speaking of Joe Gibbs Racing, there is one name conspicuously missing from the win talk and that would be Kyle Busch. While he has seven Top 10 and six Top 5 finishes including three runner up finishes, it is his lack of wins that is most disturbing. He has had some speed but he has also had two finishes out of the Top 15 and three out of the Top 25. And when he does have speed, he doesn’t seem to be able to put anyone away. Add to that he has led only 123 laps so far and that should tell you something. He is too good a driver and has too good a team to go winless, but unless they unlock something it will not be a great season for Kyle.
In the meantime, NASCAR is changing before our very eyes and one can, and many do, disagree with some of those changes. With COVID-19 we have witnessed the first race with fans in attendance. Granted there were just a thousand people there instead of tens of thousands, but it is a start.
Teams are not getting in any practice time due to health concerns, but I really haven’t missed that and you could argue that the good teams and still good. Aside from Kyle Busch not dominating, that is a good thing and could give NASCAR and the owners some pause on how much money do they really need to spend. The lack of practice and qualifying has been surprising in that effect. I am sure there are some financial issues with the networks over televising those two events, but this has proven that we really don’t need all that practice. Qualifying has been interesting with the inverted fields from time to time but again, are we missing anything? And I could certainly make an argument for this being a case of “run what ya brung” old-school attitude that fans say they want.
And now that fans are returning in a limited way, NASCAR has made its anemic confederate flag ban a bigger issue. The flag will not be tolerated at any track. How they police that I am not sure so we’ll have to see how that plays out. But being tossed from the track is certainly a distinct possibility and I could see serial offenders being banned from all tracks.
Of all the changes, this one will probably be the most squealed about and not just from Southerners, there will be a fair amount of haters that live in the North – which doesn’t exactly square with me considering how often Southerners are bashed by their Yankee brethren. In my opinion, this ban is long overdue. The first “ban” never really had any teeth in it and very few folks exchanged their stars and bars for the stars and stripes.
Having grown up in the South, I get it. I used to own a confederate flag and then I woke up one day and realized what that symbolized outside of my own myopic view of the world and myself. If you want to keep the old flag at your home in your man cave, go ahead. No one is saying you can’t own one, just now display it at a public event that you don’t own and have to pay to get into. Many sporting events have dress codes, cooler codes, purse codes. Now we have a flag code. So unless you are trying to poke the bear and find out just what teeth NASCAR intends to have in their policy, don’t be that person. Just go and enjoy the race and leave the stars and bars at home.
And lastly, in case you missed it in all the other news, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. returned to the track at Homestead in the Xfinity series. He finished a respectable 5th and led a handful of laps. As for the future? Who knows. Earnhardt struggles with being a dad, a broadcaster, a team owner and a sometime driver. That’s a huge time commitment. And while he learned a lot during the lead up and the race itself to help him as a broadcaster and team owner, he is smart enough to know there may be better ways for him to help the team than drive a couple times a year.
Enjoy Talladega! Watch for NASCAR to reduce speeds again after the Newman Daytona wreck. Hopefully that will keep the cars on the track and still give us some great racing.