Always reblog last-lap passes for the win.
Always reblog last-lap passes for the win.
Now that the 2016 NASCAR season is in the books, some thoughts:
-We saw some fantastic racing this season, across all three national series. The Chase really infused some excitement into the Camping World Truck and Xfinity Series, and the lower-downforce areo rules in the Sprint Cup Series really helped the on-track product. We didn’t always get carnage and blown tempers, but we had intense, close competition and more than enough dramatic finishes.
-For all the fuss over the caution clock in the Truck Series, I think it ultimately had little effect on the season. More often than not, an incident or debris would bring out the caution before the end of the 20 minutes. For the most part, I think Truck races still unfolded naturally. That said, I’m not a fan of the concept and I don’t want to see it in the other series.
-Don’t underestimate the potential impact of Daniel Suarez winning the Xfinity Series title. NASCAR’s biggest asset is its drivers, and if the sanctioning body wants to see a more diverse class of competitors and a more diverse fanbase, Suarez’s success is key. It’s not enough for minorities to compete in NASCAR’s highest levels; they have to be successful. Golf didn’t open up to minorities because Tiger Woods was there; it did so because Tiger Woods kicked everyone’s ass for so long.
-A lot of people are blaming the new Chase on William Byron not winning the Truck Series championship despite having won seven races – by far the most in the series. And that’s possibly true, but let’s not forget that the season-long points format also saw its share of drivers who won the most races but didn’t win the title. In 2003, Ryan Newman won a Cup Series-high eight races… but finished sixth in points while a driver with one win won the title. In 1996, Jeff Gordon won 10 races to Terry Labonte’s two – but Labonte won the championship.
-Before Suarez’s win on Saturday, Cup drivers had won four straight Xfinity Chase races. Thankfully, this won’t be an issue come 2017; as part of a restructuring of competition rules, NASCAR announced that full-time Cup drivers with at least five full seasons’ worth of experience would not be eligible to run Truck or Xfinity Chase races – and that anyone who declared for Cup points would not be eligible to run at Homestead in the lower series. While I’m not completely against Cup drivers in the lower rankings – for reasons I’ve already outlined – I love keeping them out of the Chase. The Chase in the Truck and Xfinity Series is time for those drivers to shine, and the best Xfinity Chase races this year were the ones Xfinity Series regulars won.
-For most of the 2016 season, the prevailing questions in the Cup Series were “What’s wrong with Hendrick Motorsports?” and “Who can beat Joe Gibbs Racing?” Amazingly enough, it was a Hendrick driver who wound up winning the championship.
-There’s no one to blame in the Carl Edwards-Joey Logano wreck at the end of the season finale in Homestead. On a late restart, Edwards was on the inside of the front row with Logano right behind him. Logano got a great launch and looked inside on Edwards. Edwards blocked, but Logano was already far enough alongside that he turned Edwards into the inside wall. Edwards shot back across the track, hit the outside wall, and was collected by other cars. An unfortunate incident that cost Edwards his best shot at a title since 2011, but both drivers were doing what they felt they had to do to win. It was, as they say, one of those racin’ deals.
-Great class from Edwards after the wreck to approach the No. 22 pit box, apologize, and wish Logano luck in finishing out the rest of the race. He’s come a long way from the guy who intentionally wrecked Brad Keselowski twice in one season a few years back.
-Alex Bowman deserves a full-time ride in quality equipment.
-NASCAR’s limit on Cup drivers competing in Truck and Xfinity races will only truly work if the sponsors are on-board and agree to support young drivers in the same manner as the established names – because that’s why Cup drivers run so many of those races in the first place.
-Part of me is glad the 2016 season is over, because it means we’re that much closer to seeing Dale Earnhardt Jr. back in a race car again.
-If Dale Jr. decides to go into broadcasting once his driving career is over, I think Fox and NBC will fight each other for his services. His guest stints on MRN and NBCSN during the Talladega and Martinsville races were fantastic, and he was really good in Saturday’s Xfinity pre-race coverage. He’s a lot better at this than he gets (or gives himself) credit for.
-Don’t expect a sophomore slump out of Chase Elliott. I think he wins a handful of races and is a serious Chase contender.
-Also, calling it now: Ryan Blaney will make the 2017 Chase.
-Calling it now, Part 2: William Byron will win four races and advance to Homestead for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.
-I was never much of a Tony Stewart fan, but I am bummed to see him step out of the car. He’s always been fun to watch sling a race car around, and his win at Sonoma this year was one of the season’s highlights. My best memory, though, comes from Martinsville circa 2004; sitting front row on the frontstretch, I would flip him off whenever he went by. Well, one time under caution, I did it again – and Smoke gave me the finger right back. That was cool as hell.
-First Jeff Gordon, now Tony Stewart. Damn…
-Sunday’s race at Homestead was the best in this current Chase era. The racing itself was fantastic, and there were times throughout the day when all four Chase contenders had a legitimate claim to throne. But Jimmie Johnson was best when it mattered most… and let’s not forget that in the three years under this format, the champion was the driver who won at Homestead. That’s neither accident nor coincidence.
-Make no mistake: we saw history on Sunday.
-Critics will argue that Johnson’s seven championships can’t compare to Dale Earnhardt or Richard Petty’s. And in a way, they’re right. Johnson’s titles are different… but so were Earnhardt’s, and so were Petty’s. They each raced and succeeded in drastically different eras of the sport. The fact that Johnson’s titles were achieved differently does not diminish the magnitude of Johnson’s accomplishment. His name totally belongs in the same breath as Earnhardt and Petty.
-Don’t be surprised if Johnson winds up with eight or nine titles – and he has a real shot at 100 race wins. He’s 41, and I think it comes down to how much longer he wants to race. Does he bow out in his mid-40s the way Gordon and Stewart have, or does he go longer?
-I don’t think Johnson will really get his due until decades from now. That’s how things typically go in NASCAR; the sport, writ large, doesn’t appreciate greatness in the moment, but in hindsight, the greats and lauded as gods. Give it 20-30 years, and Johnson will be revered.
-When Gordon won his fourth title in 2001, the talk instantly went to when he would reach seven. Yet Gordon never even got to five. Ironically enough, he’s partially to blame for that, since he was the guy who discovered Johnson and helped get him his ride with Hendrick Motorsports.
-When Stewart won his two titles in the Chase era, he did so without having to beat Jimmie. Same for Kevin Harvick in 2014 and Kyle Busch in 2015. The only two drivers to actually beat Johnson for a Cup title in the Chase era? Kurt Busch in 2004 and Brad Keselowski in 2012. Those two have bragging rights no one else in the Cup Series has.
-98 days until the 2017 Daytona 500. That’s 98 days too many.