Monday, May 29, 2017

Notes And Observations From 10 Days in Charlotte

With the Memorial Day weekend now behind us, it’s finally safe to examine a few trends that have emerged from the first 12 races of the season, while simultaneously emptying the notebook from a busy 10-day stretch in the heart of NASCAR Country.

One Win May Not Be Enough -- NASCAR’s Youth Movement continued at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday night, with Austin Dillon joining Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the list of first-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winners this season. Dillon becomes the ninth different victor in just 12 races this season, casting NASCAR’s traditional “Win And You’re In” playoff mantra into doubt for the first time ever.

Fourth-place points man Kevin Harvick and fifth-place Kyle Busch are comfortably nestled into playoff positions at present, despite being winless on the season. But with drivers like Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all high on the list of potential 2017 winners – and Joey Logano still gunning for an unencumbered win to replace his April 30 win at Richmond – with only 16 total playoff berths available, things could get uncomfortable toward the end of the regular season.  

“The Goop” HelpedHigh marks to Charlotte Motor Speedway officials for their decision to apply a resin-based traction enhancing compound to the middle and high grooves of the 1.5-mile speedway in advance of Sunday’s race. One week after a ho-hum All-Star Race that produced little or no on-track action, Truex called the move it a “good addition,” calling the VHT compound “a huge factor” in the competitiveness of the Coca-Cola 600. “I think last weekend the middle groove… was nonexistent,” said Truex after leading 233 of 400 laps and finishing third. “It was the slickest part of the racetrack. Tonight, it was the main groove. It definitely played a factor. It changed the race quite a bit.”

Dillon Saves The Day -- Unfortunately, all the “Goop” in the world cannot change the laws of aerodynamics, which once again saw the race leader enjoy a substantial advantage over his pursuers at Charlotte. Dillon’s larcenous, fuel-mileage aided victory added some excitement to what was shaping up to be a decidedly dull finish, but most of the passing Sunday – at least up front – occurred immediately following an on-track restart.

The addition of a fourth stage Sunday did not appear to ramp-up the intensity, and quite honestly, the action at CMS tends to mirror the height of the sun. Day racing at Charlotte is generally competitive and entertaining. But once the sun dips below the horizon, “single-file” becomes the phrase of the day. It could be worse, though.

It could be Indy.

Larson Drops Points Lead -- Kyle Larson slapped the wall twice Sunday en route to a season-worst 33rd-place finish, losing the championship points lead to Martin Truex, Jr. for the first time since Phoenix in mid-March. The young phenom is unlikely to be shedding any tears over his loss of the top spot, since he was once again one of the fastest cars on the track at CMS. Teammate Jamie McMurray was also a contender before settling for 12th at the drop of the checkered flag, continuing a season that has both Chip Ganassi Racing drivers in solid contention for the championship.

With A Little Help From His Friends -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Coke 600 start was good, but not great, as NASCAR’s perennial Most Popular Driver overcame a miserable performance in the previous weekend’s Monster Energy All Star Race to finish tenth in the Coca-Cola 600. When it was over, Earnhardt gave a full measure of credit to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, saying, “We’ve got to thank Jimmie and the No. 48 guys. Jimmie was communicating with me all week, calling me, talking on the phone. He would come across the garage and get in my window, even during practice. Get out of his car and come talk to me. What a great teammate.

“We would have liked to have run a little bit better than that for sure,” he added. “We think we should be running in the Top-5 every week as a team, so that is still not really good enough, but compared to last week, it’s a huge improvement.”

Things Looking Up For JGRJoe Gibbs Racing once again showed signs at Charlotte of turning their lackluster 2017 around. The team is still collectively winless, but had arguably its best collective performance in the Coca-Cola 600. Kyle Busch led 63 laps Sunday and finished second, with teammates Matt Kenseth (fourth), Denny Hamlin (fifth) and Daniel Suarez (11th) close behind. JGR is still winless , after racking up seven wins at this point of the 2016 campaign, but seems to be finding the speed they have lacked in the early part of the season.  “Our speed is better, but we still have some work to do,” said Kenseth. “I still can’t run with the 78 and the 18 if they’re out in front of me. They’re still better than us. We still have some work to do, but we do have more speed and that’s encouraging.”

Busch Still A Challenge Despite a solid, runner-up finish behind Dillon Sunday night, Kyle Busch once again reinforced his status as the most ingracious loser in all of professional sports. NASCAR’s resident Bad Boy answered just one question during his mandatory Infield Media Center appearance, saying, “I’m not surprised about anything. Congratulations,” before tossing down the microphone and refusing to participate further.

Busch continues to hear more catcalls during pre-race driver introductions than any driver this side of Joey Logano, and honestly, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver doesn’t seem to care. In fact, he actually seems to enjoy tossing off the occasional toddler-style temper tantrum.

One can only wonder how his team and sponsors feel about it.


  1. On Kyle Busch, thank God we at least have him to show SOME kind of personality, and not be another robotic sponsor lap dog.

    1. Anonymous6:21 PM

      We teach children from an early age to be graceful in victory and defeat in all sports. You can tell a lot about a man by the way he waits in line (on line if you're from some regions)and the way he deals with losing. We all have two choices when we don't get our way or we're not successful in some way. You can act like an adult and gain the respect of civilized people, or you can continue to act like a five year old. One problem is that many athletes never grow up because they're treated special. You can have a personality, just make it one that is respectable.

    2. Anonymous9:50 AM

      Isn't it funny how everyone in Nascar wants these guys to show their personality, but when they do, people are all over them for it. And then you wonder why most don't want to deal with the backlash and turn into robots. You can't have it both ways Nascar fans!

    3. Not everyone has a personality people look forward to seeing.

  2. Anonymous11:00 AM

    If Busch's team members don't like the way he reacts to losing, they can go work on Earnhardt's team. He has no lack of experience losing well. As for the sponsors, I've never heard Joe Gibbs getting antsy about selling sponsorship for Busch or showing up at the track in a blank car. And no, putting on the car doesn't count when Rick can't sell sponsorship for NASCAR's most popular driver.

    I hope this simple explanation answers your question about how Busch's team and sponsor feel about their driver. When it comes to the things that MATTER, like the hard work his team put in, and the money that his sponsors pony up, it's pretty easy to see that the actual stakeholders would rather have a driver that is invested in his job, instead of fantasy football leagues and video games and barrooms. Being charming and affable has its place, but its place is not at a racetrack.

    1. So you're going to tell us how JGR and its sponsors feel about displays like last night's? Unless your name is Joe Gibbs, or you're the CEO of Mars, I don't think you're qualified to do so. You may be qualified to guess how they feel, but that's about all.

    2. Relax Dave. "Everything's great"

    3. Anonymous9:15 PM

      Who brought Toyota and Mars their first Championship? Was it anyone but Kyle Busch? They stood with him through worse they'll stand with him through this little bit of fan outrage.

    4. I agree he appears difficult to deal with. I always found it hard to like Tony Stewart because of how he treated people. I quickly tire of the Carl Edwards style interviews that seem falsely positive. That being said I think the push for better behaviour being sponsor driven really puts he sport in a bind. You can't be yourself because the sponsors might not like it. Without the sponsors you cannot race. Not a great formula for adding personality to the sport. With 90 plus sponsors in the sport now, all with different corporate values how can this be good for the sport.

    5. Toyota's Andy Graves seemed to tell Brad Keselowski on Twitter "Keep your mouth shut" about Kyle Busch. I'd say that counts for something.

  3. Like millions of other Nascar fans, I bought M&Ms before Busch even started racing and have continued to do so in spite of him. At some point M&M/Mars will move on when they realize their big advertising bucks will be better spent elsewhere, maybe even outside of Nascar. If that happens, it'll be a sad day for Busch and all of Nascar's fans.

  4. I sense butt hurt ��

  5. Anonymous4:20 PM

    When the ONLY excitement for JGR is kyle, you sit on your hands and wait for the wins and concern yourself with making the other teams as good as kyle's is. I am positive Kyle is as frustrated as anyone else at JGR over not winning this year. I highly doubt his primary sponsor, the MARS company will be upset because Kyle was upset at NOT winning.

    With a sport that in it's glory days had more controversy and rivalries than you could shake a gear shift lever at Kyle is the volcano in the midst of a cold sea. I hope he never grows up.

    Murray in Austin

  6. I'm radically mixed on Kyle Busch's surly postrace reaction. That it was surly and sanctimonious was all too obvious; that it displayed real emotion is also true, and also I wonder if it goes beyond just the fact of losing a race on fuel mileage and is a hint of genuine contempt for who the winner was.

    The issue of inability to run in dirty air - mention that "It could be Indy" is doubly ironic given the restrictor plate-drag duct package the Xfinity cars will run there in July - I am stunned there is no discussion anywhere about this package, a package that by all accounts tested superbly at Indianapolis and made for ample passing. I suspect it will showcase much better racing and actually show a real answer for the sport, especially given how Indycar has overall nailed the balance of horsepower, downforce, tire, and drafting effect for the 500 and its other superspeedways.

    A story that got little play was Regan Smith's first run in Petty's #43 with Aric Almirola out for months and I suspect the season; he ran decently, I'm puzzled what happened that he fell back badly in the final quarter of the race and finished 22nd.