I have to say, even though I was skeptical about the races being broken up into stages, for some reason, I actually like this new move as a wrinkle for how teams strategize from week to week. The only thing that I don’t like is the fact that there are mandatory yellow flags at the end of the stages, instead a constant continuation of the race.
I have to give a special shoutout to Ryan Newman for taking the win at Phoenix International Raceway, picking up his first victory since 2013 and qualifying for the playoffs. Maybe more teams will stay out in the event of a late-race caution instead of coming in?
It’s funny how karma works, especially when it comes to Kyle Busch, who, as a lot of NASCAR fans remember, tried to wreck Joey Logano at the end of last week’s race at Las Vegas and then tried to fight him. Fast forward a week later, Joey Logano cuts down a tire when Kyle Busch has the victory well in hand. Is this the start of a new rivalry?
Along the way, with the victories, the stage wins, and the racing product, there are some pleasant early-season surprises that I’d like to mention.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Kyle Larson leading the points. He has three consecutive second place finishes and was leading the Daytona 500 before running out of fuel in turn one, handing the victory to Kurt Busch. It’s not a matter of time IF he wins multiple races this season, but WHEN he wins them. This year may be his breakthrough into championship contention, and thus far, he is proving it.
Chase Elliott in third place. He was leading the Daytona 500 before he was passed with a few laps to go. He has added two top five finishes and a stage victory. And like Kyle Larson, it’s only a matter of time before he reaches victory lane this season.
Ryan Blaney currently standing in sixth place. If he had a strong enough draft, then he would likely have won the Daytona 500, and he has been qualifying better thus far. Can he keep it up as the season goes on?
It is no surprise to see Cup drivers winning Xfinity races, such as the cases of Kyle Busch (Atlanta) and Joey Logano (Las Vegas), nor is it a surprise to see Elliott Sadler leading the points, and Justin Allgaier in early contention, especially with his victory in Phoenix. But here are some more special shoutouts:
William Byron, currently in 2nd place in points. The kid has talent, as evidenced last year when he scored the most victories in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, finishing in fifth place in his rookie season. He’s a shoo in to make the Xfinity playoffs, but it will be a matter of time before he gets his first career Xfinity win.
Ryan Reed, who picked up his second career win at Daytona, and is currently sitting in 3rd place in points. He has improved from year to year, from one win (his only top five and top ten finish) of 2015, to seven top tens the following year. He is doing well thus far, and if he keeps it up, he will be a contender for the championship.
Bubba Wallace rounding out the top five in points with three consecutive sixth-place finishes, despite not having a full-season sponsor, Daniel Hemric in sixth (recovering from a DNF at the season-opening race at Daytona) On a side note, once their careers are over, they both need to go into reality television. I have a feeling their show would pull in some good ratings.
Dakota Armstrong rounding out the top ten. JGL Racing has some speed, and has consistenly finished in the top twenty. If those top twenties can turn into top tens, this team is definitely a wildcard to make the Xfinity playoffs.
Camping World Truck Series
Kaz Grala becoming the youngest driver to win at Daytona after the chaos that was the final lap, and Christopher Bell, picking up where he left off last season after beating Kyle Busch at Atlanta are two impressive early surprises. It’s a long season, and things can change, for all series.
I will be updating in four weeks time to see if some of the same drivers are at the top of the standings, who has dropped off, and who is making moves.