You may not always like the racing you see week in and week out, but you can’t deny the flavors of the week have been changing as the 2011 Sprint Cup season unfolds.
If the Chase started today, Brad Keselowski would be in it. No longer can it be said of him that his lone victory came in one of those flukey plate races. With victories at tracks as diverse as the mile-and-a-half at Kansas, and the Tricky Triangle at Pocono, Bad Brad has demonstrated the chops of a wheel man.
How about Paul Menard? Any evidence you need that his win at Indy was not a case of the sun shining on a dog’s hiney came with his top ten at Pocono. In fact, look at Menard’s stats compared to Denny Hamlin, and they are virtually identical. Looks like he just needed a little time and some top flight equipment.
Though not quite as consistent, David Ragan and Joey Logano are just on the cusp crashing the party. While it may be tempting to dismiss Ragan’s July win at Daytona as a product of restrictor plate racing, let’s not forget he does have three top five and six top tens, and tracks coming up such as Michigan and Richmond where he has run well.
On this page, we’ll give a call to Joey Logano. Maybe its because of his dust ups with Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman; maybe its because of his dad. It may be that people just have a hard time accepted a newcomer named “Sliced Bread” with all the trappings that come with being an “Anointed One.” I suspect it has more to do with driving a Toyota for Joe Gibbs that’s the issue, but one can argue the kid doesn’t get a fair shake in terms of expectations.
It’s true Logano hasn’t run in 2011 as he did in 2010, when some forecasted a breakout year, given how last season finished. He still needs to extend his resume beyond a rain-shortened win at New Hampshire in 2009 to be taken more seriously; yet with that said, the flashes of brilliance are still there. If Logano puts a run together, he’s mentioned in the same breath with the likes of Keselowski, Menard and teammate Hamlin.
Now, add to this mix young and more accomplished veterans like Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne, and you have a conversation that extends the usual chatter concerning Jimmie, Cousin Carl, Kyle, Kurt, Super G, Junior, Matt the Brat, Newman and Happy. In fact, if Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. don’t pick it up, two of NASCAR’s more visible faces may find themselves left off the dance card.
In the same way that new faces are vying for headlines in golf after the fall of Tiger Woods, its refreshing to see some faces less familiar competing for camera time in NASCAR. In a season where it once appeared it would be all about Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards- some new names are making waves.
Parity is good for NASCAR. A part of its recent problems has been that too many of its fortunes have been wrapped up in one guy. Now- here’s something for irony: Dale Earnhardt Jr. may not be winning, but his racing team has made a way for two of the week’s major headline makers- Brad Keselowski and Danica Patrick- to gt their start.
Don’t look now, but NASCAR’s ensemble cast is getting a facelift. An infusion of new blood. The presence of the unusual suspects may become may not be so uncommon as they once were.
Other articles by Jim McCoy include:
The Wild, Wild Card Race
The Best NASCAR Racing You May Be Missing
NASCAR, Your Fans Are Waiting