Categories
Commentary

Stealing the Spotlight – 5 Drivers You’ll Hear About Next

NASCAR has done a lot – and rightfully so – to showcase the youth movement that is currently underway. As Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and (possibly) Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle move onto the next chapter of their lives, talented youngsters like Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and William Byron have arrived on the scene.

The roster of young drivers is indeed impressive as another wave could be set to arrive in the wake of Elliott, Larson, Jones and Byron. 

Check out five drivers – only two of which have Cup team affiliations – who may be appearing more in the headlines as they win races and compete for championships.

John Hunter Nemechek

When people hear the name Nemechek, they still think of former Cup star, Joe Nemechek. But that is changing as son John Hunter Nemechek continues to make his name in the Camping World Truck Series. Racing since the age of five, John Hunter has a resume that includes the 2012 Allison Legacy Series Championship, a victory in the 2014 Snowball Derby and experience in a variety of series including ASA, UNOH and NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East.

Nemechek began competing in the Camping World Truck Series in 2014 and, a year later, captured his first of three wins in the Truck Series at Chicagoland, coming 16 years to the day after father Joe won his first Cup race.

Voted the Truck Series Most Popular Driver in 2015, he found himself mired in controversy a year later. After a win at Atlanta, Nemechek won his second race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. Nemechek bumped Cole Custer for the lead, and the two battled door-to-door and off-track to cross the finish line, resulting in a post-race brawl.     

Nemechek made the Truck Series’ inaugural Chase but was eliminated in the Round of 8. At the age of 19, Nemechek has already collected 28 top 10 finishes to go with three wins in the Truck series.      

Spencer Gallagher

No less than Dale Earnhardt, Jr has commented on Spencer Gallagher’s entertaining interviews, and the 27-year-old XFINITY Series rookie who drives for GMS Racing has the on-track skills to back it up.  After coming up through the ranks of Bandoleros, Legends and Late Models, Gallagher has also competed in the K&N Pro Series West and East and ARCA series.

The 2014 ARCA 98.9 at Kansas Speedway was the last race of the season, but it served as Gallagher’s first win. Meanwhile, sharing a truck ride with Max Gresham at GMS Racing, Gallagher finished third at Talladega.

After full seasons in the Camping World Truck Series in 2015 and 2016, Gallagher also ran select XFINITY Series races. He scored five straight top 10 finishes and a second-place finish at Talladega but failed to make the inaugural Truck Chase.

While he will still run in the Truck Series part-time, Gallagher has graduated to the XFINITY Series, driving the No. 23 for GMS Racing. Currently best known for a scuffle with John Wes Townley during last year’s Camping World Truck Series race at Gateway (a rematch from a 2014 battle at Iowa), Gallagher is ready to grab the spotlight away from his competitors on and off the track.   

Ryan Sieg

Rarely has any driver done so much with so little than Ryan Sieg. Driving No. 39 for a family-owned team with limited sponsorship, Sieg continues to compete in the XFINITY and Truck Series.

He began his NASCAR career in 2009 in trucks, running nine races for his family’s team following a one-off with Gunbroker Racing. He finished in the top 20 in six of those races, including a ninth-place finish at Gateway.

A year later, he competed in all 25 races in the Truck Series, finishing in the top 10 at Kentucky and Dover and finishing 15th in the points. All this despite no major sponsorship.

In 2013, while still running a full schedule in trucks, Sieg made his XFINITY debut, substituting for the suspended Jeremy Clements. A year later, he began to focus on NASCAR’s second-tier division, scoring two top 10 finishes at Daytona: a ninth and a third. 

In 2015, he finished eleventh in the points, the highest ranked driver not affiliated with a Cup team. Consistently running in the top 20, Sieg’s best result was an eighth-place result at Kansas.

In 2016, he made the XFINITY Series Chase. Eliminated in the Round of 12, he finished ninth in the point standings.

Brennan Poole

Brennan Poole almost won the XFINITY race at Talladega in 2016.  As Joey Logano wrecked behind him, Poole crossed the finish line first but was told Elliott Sadler had been leading when the caution flag flew. Despite the disappointing outcome, the race helped put Poole on the map.

Poole, a 2002 National Champion in quarter-midgets and 2011 UARA Late Model Champion, made a major splash with a win in his ARCA debut in 2011 at Salem Speedway.  He ran a full schedule in 2012 for Venturini with two wins and a third-place finish in points. After running two years on a part-time schedule, Poole left ARCA for NASCAR, having secured six wins in 35 career starts.

Moving to NASCAR’s XFINITY Series in 2015, Poole shared driving duties on HScott Motorsports No. 42 with Ganassi Racing’s Larson. Including a ninth-place finish in his debut at Las Vegas, Poole scored two top 10s and ten top 15s in 17 starts.

His results were good enough to score a full-time ride with Ganassi in 2016.  To date, the win has eluded him, but he has scored 19 top 10s.

Chase Briscoe

Chase Briscoe is following up his 2016 ARCA Championship with a ride in Brad Keselowski Racing No. 29 Ford in the Camping World Truck Series.

Briscoe competed in quarter-midgets and 410 sprint cars growing up and competed in the K&N Pro Series West in 2013. After contacting his friend Christopher Bell in 2015 about a contract with Roush Fenway Racing, Briscoe completed some ARCA tests for Cunningham Motorsports at Mobile International Speedway and Fairgrounds Speedway in Tennessee.

Briscoe ran a pair of ARCA races later that year, finishing tenth at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and fifth at Salem Speedway. In 2016, he all but dominated the ARCA series with six wins including four consecutive, en route to winning the championship.

In his Truck Series debut, Briscoe finished third at Daytona.

These are just five drivers out of the many competing in the XFINITY and Truck Series. Aglance at the other development to series, you could say the future is bright for NASCAR, but there may be even more youngsters to come. 

 

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Could Johnson’s Struggles Be Early Roadblock to Eighth Championship?

As the NASCAR community gathered at Daytona to begin the 2017 season, there was a lot of confidence in Jimmie Johnson‘s chances to surpass Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and become the first-ever eight-time Cup Champion.

A lot has changed in a few weeks, though, following a handful of on-track appearances by the No. 48 team. 

Johnson’s season began with what can be termed a disastrous Speedweeks with wrecks in the Can-Am Duels (which relegated him to a 24th-place starting position in the Daytona 500), the Clash at Daytona and the main event, the Daytona 500 itself.  While Johnson was looking for another Daytona 500 win, he finished 34th.

There’s a saying in NASCAR: the real season starts after Daytona.

The theory doesn’t help Johnson’s quest for an eighth championship, though. After qualifying mid-pack in 18th, his day ended one spot worse than where he started, in 19th. Unlike his results at Daytona, his finish at Atlanta can’t be explained away by saying he was in the wrong place at the wrong time or had equipment issues. Speeding on pit road twice, along with pitting after taking a wave-around, provided an insurmountable road block to Johnson’s chances of rebounding from Daytona.

Again, the 2017 season is still in its infancy, and Johnson, Chad Knaus and the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports team might take solace in the fact they have a long season ahead of them. The truth is: a long season can go by quickly and can even leave defending series champions on the outside looking in.

But no need to hit the panic button, yet, for a driver who has won multiple championships in multiple Chase formats. The great unknown is this new format.

Johnson has found himself in trouble before, especially with his typical summer swoon. Usually, it comes with Johnson having at least one win to put him into the Chase. In past years, a win all but ensured drivers could endure a slump and still be in good position for a run for the Championship.

This new point system changes everything. While a win would still get Johnson into NASCAR’s playoffs, a collection of sub-par finishes could position him behind other drivers and create a deficit he might not make up over just three races in the first round.

Perhaps all this speculation is for naught.  Johnson may have just been caught up in the hype of his seventh championship win, and the bad results will force him to get his head in the game, so to speak. Maybe he is getting all his bad luck out of the way and by the end of NASCAR’s “West Coast Swing,” Johnson will be back dominating and headed towards Championship Number Eight.

Or perhaps Johnson’s eighth championship will be put on hold until 2018.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

MILNER: Daytona 500 Win Not Best Way to Start a Career

As we approach the 59th Daytona 500, several (relatively) new names are among those touted as potential winners of the race.

To date, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, and Daniel Suarez will be among those competitors who will take the green flag at Daytona without a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win. Each of them has a solid shot to pick up that first win in the biggest race of the 2017 season.

Dillon has found the plate tracks and drafting to his liking, as the only driver to finish in the top 10 in each of the four restrictor plate tracks last year. Elliott, for the second time in as many years, sits on the Daytona 500 pole, a year after a very successful rookie campaign where he seemed on the cusp of a win several times.  Suarez could use the momentum of his XFINITY championship and help from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates to propel him to victory.

While all three drivers would present a great story should they break into the win column with a Daytona 500 victory, the question might be “should they?” After all, getting the first career win in the Daytona 500 hasn’t always led to great career dividends for their predecessors.

Seven drivers had their first Cup Series win in the Daytona 500. With one exception, none of them went on to record more than a scattering of wins throughout their career. Trevor Bayne, the Cinderella Story of 2011 with a Daytona 500 win in just his second career start in the series knows that all too well. Bayne will be part of the field on Sunday still awaiting his second Cup win.

Elsewhere in the field, Michael Waltrip is another driver who got his first Cup win in the 2001 Daytona 500, albeit a little further along in his career than Bayne. After starting his career with 462 races without a win, Waltrip would win two Daytona 500s (2001 and 2003) but only four wins overall.

Derrike Cope, still active in the XFINITY Series and undertaking a limited Cup schedule in 2017, will be forever remembered for being in the right place at the right time. When Dale Earnhardt, Sr. blew a tire on the final lap of the 1990 Daytona 500, Cope went from potential runner-up to Daytona 500 winner. What is not as widely recalled is the Daytona 500 was one of only two wins in Cope’s Cup career (the other being at Dover later that same year).

1970 Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton logged four career wins over six years while 1963 Daytona 500 winner Tiny Lund had five career wins over 20 years). Mario Andretti’s win at the 1967 Daytona 500 was his only NASCAR win, but then his racing resume isn’t exactly light on other accomplishments.

With two Daytona 500 wins serving as his first two career victories, Sterling Marlin is the exception to the rule. Marlin won back-to-back Daytona 500s in 1994 and 1995, the first of ten wins in a career that spanned 33 years between 1976 and 2009.

However, as stated, Marlin is the exception, not the rule. Perhaps, if you count Dillon, Elliott or Suarez (or Ryan Blaney, Danica Patrick or Austin’s brother, Ty Dillion to name just a few) among your favorites, perhaps you will want your driver to wait until Atlanta before getting that first win.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

MILNER: Sorenson Favorite Among Open Teams Not Locked In

In addition to putting the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on the front row of the Daytona 500, Sunday’s qualifying also ensured two of the four spots for those without charters, were set.

Ironically, of the six drivers competing for those four spots, it was the two favorites, Elliott Sadler and Brendan Gaughan, who secured their spots in The Great American Race, based on their qualifying speeds.

Sadler, driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing, will make his fourteenth appearance in the Daytona 500 and his first since 2012. With six top 10 finishes in the race, Sadler has come close to winning previously.  He finished runner-up to Ward Burton in 2002 and, in 2009, was passed by Matt Kenseth on the last green flag lap.

Gaughan, like Sadler, has been a regular competitor in the XFINITY Series over the past several years. In his first Daytona 500 since a nineteenth place finish in 2004, Gaughan will be racing for Beard Motorsports in the same Leaving Family Racing car that Michael McDowell drove to a fifteenth-place finish in last year’s Daytona 500, with an ECR Engine and Gaughan’s Richard Childress Racing XFINITY Series pit crew.

For the four drivers yet to lock themselves in via speed or a charter, they will be competing for two spots in Thursday’s Can-Am Duels. With Sadler and Gaughan already locked in, no one stands out among the four remaining hopefuls.

Reed Sorenson has the most Daytona 500 experience of the four, with six starts with four different teams. He snagged a top five in 2008, driving for Chip Ganassi Racing and followed it up with a ninth-place finish a year later, driving the iconic No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports. Entry into the 2017 Daytona 500 would be his 263 career Cup start, with 15 top 10s to his credit.

Timmy Hill first arrived on the national scene in 2011 and was the XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year. In six years, he has made 171 starts in XFINITY, Trucks, and Cup, with three top 10s in total. Hill has raced at Daytona five times in NASCAR’s three touring series with a seventh-place finish in the XFINITY Series 2012 opener.  One plus he has is, in 2017, he reunites with Rick Ware Racing which gave him his start in all three major series (he also competed for the team in the 2012 24 Hours of Daytona) in his attempt to make his first Daytona 500.

DJ Kennington will seek to become the first Canadian since Trevor Boys in 1988. Daytona will be only his second Cup race, the first coming back in Phoenix. He has three XFINITY starts at Daytona but none since a seventeenth-finish in 2009. He will be driving for Gaunt Brothers Racing team, fielding their first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series entry after running in the Pinty’s Series in 2010 and 2011. Notably, Kennington is a two-time series champion, having scored both those titles with his family-run team. 

Cory LaJoie, son of two-time Busch (now XFINITY) Champion Randy LaJoie, returns to attempt to make his third Cup start and his first since 2014. Lajoie ran for JGL Racing in last year’s July Daytona XFINITY race, finishing 30th.  While BK Racing may not be challenging Joe Gibbs Racing for Toyota prominence, they do have extensive experience in the Cup series, dating back to David Reutimann’s entry into the 2012 Daytona 500. LaJoie has twenty NASCAR starts, spread across all three national series.

Based on experience from both driver and team, it would seem Sorenson could be the favorite to claim one of the two spots in the Can-Am Duels. Who would join him in racing their way into the Daytona 500 remains very much unclear. LaJoie’s alignment with BK Racing could give him the edge over Hill and Kennington.

Until the checkered flag drops on Thursday night, however, it is too close to call.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Byron Had Something to Prove at Homestead

No one would blame William Byron for being disappointed after being eliminated from the Camping World Truck Series Chase at Phoenix. The rookie phenom Byron came into the Chase as one of the favorites. Many felt he would outlast veterans like Johnny Sauter, Timothy Peters and two-time champion Matt Crafton.

In fact, with a dozen laps to go in Phoenix, Byron was leading and seemed set to almost coast to a victory to lock himself into the Final Four. Instead, his truck fell victim to mechanical problems. His premature departure was, to many people, evidence of just how unpredictable – and many say unfair – this Chase format is.

It didn’t help matter that, under the old point system, Byron would have come to the season finale at Homestead just nine points back to point leader Johnny Sauter.

Instead, he was racing for pride, trying to help Kyle Busch Motorsports claim a fourth Owner’s Championship and wanting to make one last statement. Next year he will head to the XFINITY Series, racing for JR Motorsports.

While everyone came into Homestead talking about Crafton, Sauter, Peters and Christopher Bell, Byron reminded everyone he was still there by grabbing the pole. With the drop of the green flag, Byron maintained his spot at the front until just after the first caution when he gave up the lead to Crafton.

Byron would remain in just on the cusp of dropping out of the Top 5 until approximately Lap 60 when he stormed back to the front. While Kyle Larson was the dominant truck, Byron was able to catch Crafton and was on the verge of claiming second when the caution came out.

A pass for second place wasn’t long in coming.  Once Byron got past Crafton, leaving the battle for the championship in his rear view mirror, he set his sights on regaining the lead. He retained his runner-up spot but was never able to close on Larson.

Even after losing six spots on a pit stop with 20 laps to go in the race, Byron rebounded and soon after he made it back to the Top 5, he was battling Tyler Reddick for the lea

Even as laps were winding down and the focus was securely on who would wrestle away the driver’s championship, Byron still had his sights on the lead. With 10 laps to go, he passed Tyler Reddick to reclaim the lead.

While his seventh win of the season would not net Byron a championship, he did finish the season strong. Much like another former Kyle Busch Motorsports driver who is also now in the XFINITY Series, Erik Jones, William Byron left his mark on the Camping World Truck Series.  And like Jones, Byron’s future in XFINITY looks to be bright indeed.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com 

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

THREE TAKEAWAYS: Lucas Oil 150

The Camping World Truck Series traveled to Phoenix for the penultimate race of the season. With Phoenix also being the final race of the second round of the inaugural Chase for the trucks, it meant the elimination of two drivers, leaving four to go to Homestead to decide the championship.

While William Byron dominated, a late-race mechanical problem cost him the race, opening the door for Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Daniel Suarez to pick up his first win in the series.

 

Final Four Decided

With wins at Martinsville and Texas, Johnny Sauter was already locked in to run for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend. Coming into Phoenix, the question was who else would join him? Sauter’s consecutive victories meant that, even if a Chase driver won, two others got in on points.

While Byron dominated the race, the biggest question mark seemed like it would be “Who will point themselves into a chance at the Championship?” Matt Crafton came into the race with a slim one-point lead over Timothy Peters for the final spot. Crafton managed to stretch that to four points early on but it was soon a three-way battle between him, Peters and Christopher Bell.  Every lap and every pass would drastically change the Chase picture.

With Byron out of the title picture with a handful of laps to go, it gave all three drivers a bit of breathing room.  Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Timothy Peters and Christopher Bell will head to Homestead with one emerging as the 2016 series champion. Meanwhile, Byron and Ben Kennedy found themselves on the outside looking in when the night was over. 

 

It Was Byron’s Race to Win

After never running any lower than second until the last ten laps, William Byron seemed poised to easily win the race and head to Homestead as perhaps the favorite to win the 2016 Camping World Truck Series championship. 

He had been quickest in all three rounds of qualifying en route to winning the pole. Although he had surrendered the point to Daniel Suarez and Tyler Reddick for a few laps, Byron had otherwise remained fixed at the front.

But just as the telecast went to break with a dozen laps to go, the commentators pointed out a flashing light that might indicate an overheating issue. By the time viewers rejoined the race, Byron’s engine was up in smoke. That finished his evening and, despite six wins, his chance at a championship.

 

Johnny Sauter Was Not Coasting

Two weeks ago, Johnny Sauter picked up an important win at Martinsville, which was enough to earn him a spot in the Final Four at Homestead. Many drivers might have taken advantage of the situation and coasted through the next two races. Instead, Sauter backed up his Martinsville win with another at Texas. Coming into the race, Sauter had been sixth overall in combined practice speeds and qualified fourth.

Sauter spent the early part of the night in third. After a pit stop had shuffled him out of the top five, Sauter continued to battle his way towards the front. By the white flag, he was in second and while he was unable to chase down winner Suarez, Sauter was still the leading Chase driver and should have the momentum he needs going into the final race of the season.

 

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

MILNER: A Seventh for Johnson Wouldn’t Diminish Earnhardt’s and Petty’s Legacies

With his win at Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson didn’t just earn himself another grandfather clock. Taking the checkered flag last weekend assured Johnson an opportunity to race for another Sprint Cup title in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. If he can finish ahead of the other three challengers, he will win his seventh championship.

If the pieces come together, it will be a historic achievement. It will be Johnson’s first championship since 2013 and his first under the new Chase format. He will also become only the third NASCAR driver to win seven championships, a feat previously accomplished by Hall-of-Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

As Johnson marched toward multiple championships, he became a polarizing figure as some fans who booed his every win. Even last weekend, as he climbed from his car, you could hear a smattering of boo.

Should Johnson win at Homestead, there will be those who will be quick to declare his feat to be insufficient to place him alongside Petty and Earnhardt. While every fan is entitled to their opinion, they should not be so quick to downplay Johnson’s seventh win as if it takes away from Earnhardt and Petty’s legacies.

Usually, the word “I” doesn’t figure into my articles for Popular Speed but here, I will make an exception: I am a Dale Earnhardt, Sr. fan. With due respect to Johnson, Petty, David Pearson, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison and others who enter the conversation as who was the “greatest driver of all time,” my vote goes to Earnhardt.

Having said that, I respect what Johnson has done in his career and will not be disappointed if his 2016 season ends with his seventh championship. Jimmie Johnson tying Dale Earnhardt’s record will not diminish Earnhardt’s legacy any more than Richard Petty’s legacy was in 1994 with Earnhardt’s seventh championship.

Richard Petty, with 200 wins, seven championships and an equal number of Daytona 500 wins, earned “the King” a place in the upper echelon of NASCAR all-time elite drivers. Dale Earnhardt, Sr. did the same with 76 wins, seven championships and his 1998 Daytona 500 victory. Johnson, with six championships, 79 wins, and two Daytona 500 victories is already among the all-time greats. A win at Homestead for a seventh championship would raise his career achievements up, not bring down those of either Petty or Earnhardt.

If Johnson’s seventh championship were to come to pass, NASCAR would not lose anything. Instead, it would gain a historic moment not been seen in a generation and likely will not to be seen again for another.

Even if Johnson’s seventh championship doesn’t come in 2016 or ever, he is still worthy of being part of the conversation as to who is NASCAR’s greatest driver. Whether he, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. or any other driver deserves the title is up to individual opinion. Nothing that happens at Homestead will change that.

Johnson, for his part, says he is honored to be a part of that conversation. Nothing that happens at Homestead will change that, either.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Youth and Experience Collide in Round of 6

It is a story as old as time itself. Youth vs. experience. The established guard vs. the young gun. The veteran determined to hold on to his spot in the scheme of things against the upstart trying to make his mark on the world. Even NASCAR has seen this before, recalling the friendly rivalry between Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and Jeff Gordon when the latter arrived on the Cup scene in the early 1990s.

A similar story is playing out in the Camping World Truck Series’ inaugural Chase as three veterans are sized up against three young stars.

Matt Crafton, a two-time truck series champions, leads the veteran charge into the Round of 6, hoping to end his season with his third championship in four years.

His biggest challenge may come from young William Byron. When Byron began his season, he had just a single start in the series, compared to Crafton’s 361. In short order, Byron has turned the series and, indeed, NASCAR as a whole on its ear, going to Victory Lane six times (so far) in the Camping World Truck Series in 2016 and placed himself among the favorites to claim this year’s championship.

Crafton has seen this situation before, recently in fact. Last year, after winning back-to-back titles in trucks, Crafton was stymied in his attempt to win three straight by the arrival of another Kyle Busch protégé, Erik Jones. While Crafton was still in contention coming to Homestead last November, it was Jones who won the championship.

A year later, the battle between youth and experience in the Camping World Truck Series does not begin nor end with Crafton and Byron.  Crafton will be joined by fellow truck veterans Timothy Peters and Johnny Sauter while Byron will lead a youth movement that includes Christopher Bell and Ben Kennedy.

Crafton, Peters, and Sauter have 800 career starts in the series, heading into Martinsville. On the other side of this coin, Byron, Bell, and Kennedy have but 114.

To put it in perspective, of the three veterans, Sauter has the fewest starts with 194, but that is 80 more than the three young guns combined.

No rule says veterans will always have the edge due to their experience, nor is there one that says youthful exuberance will prevail. Categorizing these six drivers as young or experienced will have no consequence on the outcome of the championship. What the equal number of young and experienced drivers still in the Chase says is there is room for both in the Camping World Truck Series.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Bowyer Good Dark Horse Pick for Talladega

When you talk Talladega, the first thing in conversation is how much of a wild card the track is, especially when it comes to the Chase.  Except for Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, every Chase driver is said to be approaching Talladega with apprehension.

At the same time, non-Chase drivers see Talladega as their shot to spoil the party. Restrictor plate racing on the superspeedways is an opportunity for smaller teams to compete on equal terms with the larger teams that see Victory Lane on a regular basis.

Perhaps no one is looking more forward to the “wild card” than Clint Bowyer.  Coming into 2016, Bowyer knew this would be a lame duck season as he would spend the year driving for HScott Motorsports before heading to Stewart-Haas Racing to take over the No. 14 Ford for the retiring Tony Stewart next season.         

But this lame duck season has turned into one of the worst of Bowyer’s career. Over the first 31 races of the season, his average finish has been 23.6.

However, there’s reason to believe that Talladega could be different. After a 33rd place finish in the Daytona 500, Bowyer’s season at the restrictor plate tracks has been impressive. Of his three top 10 finishes this year, two came at such tracks, including a seventh place at Talladega in May and ninth at Cup’s return to Daytona.  

Historically, Daytona and Talladega have been places where Bowyer has excelled. According to driveraverage.com, Bowyer has the best average finish (10.2) of any driver with multiple starts at Talladega since February 2014. Bowyer is also fifth for best average finish (14.6) among active drivers at restrictor plate tracks in the same period. During his career, Bowyer has two Talladega wins on his resume. While those wins came in October 2010 and 2011 while with Richard Childress Racing, they also came while Bowyer was driving a Chevrolet, the same make he drives with HScott Motorsports.

While larger teams have dominated Talladega over the past several years, we are only three years removed from Front Row Motorsports’ David Ragan winning this event. It was considered an upset at the time and further evidence to affirm the adage that “if you’re on track at the end, you can win at Talladega.”

Taking that wild card aspect of Talladega and combining it with Bowyer’s success at restrictor plates in general and this track, in particular, this weekend could serve as a bright spot on an otherwise forgettable season.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Dillon, Elliott Among Those Looking to Fight Elimination

After Charlotte, only one driver, Jimmie Johnson, can feel confident about his chances in the Chase. From tires to batteries to wrecks, eleven of the twelve Chase drivers had one issue or another. Seven of those drivers overcame or minimized the damage leaving four drivers below the cutline: Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano and former Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

Austin Dillon – The mantra of “RCR has no speed” continues to echo throughout NASCAR, making Dillon an underdog in even making the Chase. Before Charlotte, Dillon could take solace in teammate Ryan Newman proving a driver can make it to the cusp of a championship by being consistent. All of that was for naught when Dillon became involved in a wreck at Charlotte.  He might be the first driver below the cutline, but Dillon’s advancement to the Round of 8 would come as a surprise.

Chase Elliott – Being caught up in “the Big One” at Charlotte spoiled an otherwise great day for Chase, who led 101 laps and looked to battle teammate Johnson to earn his first career Cup win. After struggling down the stretch, Elliott’s No. 24 car has shown speed throughout the Chase. With a strong history in the next two races (two top 10s in Nationwide/XFINITY races at Kansas and finished fifth in the spring Cup race at Talladega), there’s every reason to believe Elliott could continue to run well and advance.

Joey Logano – After his strong performance a year ago (in which he swept the Round of 12), Logano was expected to contend for the Championship throughout the Chase. Hitting the wall twice at Charlotte left him with a 36th place finish and having to leapfrog over Dillon, Elliott and Denny Hamlin to get above the cutoff. Victories at Kansas and Talladega should give him the confidence he could win his way into the next round. It probably doesn’t hurt that Penske teammate Brad Keselowski won the spring race at Talladega.

Kevin Harvick – It has been feast or famine for Harvick. Having one of the strongest cars in the field haven’t allowed him to overcome a string of pit row miscues and mechanical issues.  A win at New Hampshire allowed him to overcome difficulties at Dover; he’s now in the same position after Charlotte. Harvick does have a knack capitalizing in “Must-Win” situations. While it is a shock to see him at the bottom of the Chase grid, he is the most likely to lock himself into the next round with a victory.

After Charlotte, only Denny Hamlin is within single digits above the cutline. There is little doubt this will come down to a matter of five drivers battling for one spot at Talladega. There is equally little doubt at least one or two major names, drivers expected to be competing for a championship at Homestead, will be eliminated in the Round of 12.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.