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There’s A Revolving Door To Victory Lane

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, March 15 2021

William Byron is in the playoffs. Or is he? (File photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Five different winners in the season’s first five races.

Not since 2017 has the NASCAR Cup Series season opened with such diversity. If one of the five is not the regular season champion that means six of the 16 playoff berths have already been secured. Still, Martin Truex Jr., who broke a 29-race winless streak Sunday at Phoenix Raceway in the Instacart 500, said it’s “way too early” in the 26-race regular season for anyone to be concerned.

Prior to Truex’s victory, the other four races produced surprise winners, competitors who have yet to claim a Cup championship. Michael McDowell opened the season with a Daytona 500 victory. Christopher Bell followed on the Daytona Road Course. Next was William Byron at Homestead and then Kyle Larson at Las Vegas. However, even before Sunday Brad Keselowski predicted a clearer picture of the season would emerge with the Las Vegas and Phoenix races.

“Both of these races (Las Vegas and Phoenix), I think they represent what it’s going to take to win the championship, being good on tracks of these two types,” Keselowski said. 

Phoenix runner-up Joey Logano and third-place finisher Denny Hamlin both pointed to experience as the reason for the familiar faces placing in the top-10 on Sunday. 

“There’s different techniques that I think the experienced guys have learned over the years racing cars that don’t have much downforce, a lot of horsepower,” Logano said.

Hamlin noted the veteran drivers ran the same package in 2017. 

“You kind of build a notebook on it,” Hamlin said. “You understand how to manipulate the car when it’s not handling perfectly. You can move your line around and change some things. That’s stuff that takes experience.

“I think experience in this sport is just so underrated simply because you see so many things. We’ve been through tire changes, car changes, aerodynamic changes, track changes. I mean, it lends itself even more to experience (due to a lack of practice).” 

However, numerous variables that could continue to produce surprise winners still remain in the 2021 season. Next on that agenda is the March 28 dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Truex revealed Sunday he planned to compete in the Camping World Truck Series event the day before the Cup race to gain dirt track experience.

“I’ll run Kyle’s (Busch) truck. He said I could drive it for free,” said Truex, whose only dirt experience has been in two dirt modified events at a track owned by Ken Schrader.

Kevin Harvick is also competing in the Bristol Truck race, driving a Ford F-150 for David Gilliland Racing. 

There also are six more road course events on the schedule. That has led Harvick to enter three Xfinity road course races. His first is the May 22 Pit Boss 250 at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Then he’ll compete in the July 3 Henry 180 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. His final Xfinity race is the Aug. 14 event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.     

Another wrinkle in the schedule is the fact that simulators are critical due to very few events having practice and qualifying. That has not worked well for Kyle Busch, who has only one top-five this season. 

“It’s just not correlating close enough for us,” Busch said about his team’s simulator. “If we can get that better and closer, I feel like there’s something there.”

Keselowski readily admits “it’s such a strange year.”

“I think every company is a little different,” Keselowski said. “I think there’s a fair amount of companies that have probably punted to Next Gen, which is sensible. Then there’s some companies that have really doubled down on this year’s car, their team and lineup, which makes sense, too. To each their own.”

The Cup Series moves to Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, March 15 2021
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