Posted: 10:06 am Monday, May 15th, 2017
By Doug "Fireball" Turnbull
NASCAR is in a really good stretch of races right now. Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400 was thrilling from flag to flag (with 15 flags in between), with a balanced mixture of lead changes, side-by-side racing in the pack, contact, and confrontation. All of this transpired on a 1.5-mile track, the oft-maligned type of racing venue that receives the brunt of the blame for why the numbers for NASCAR are down. The 267-lap race had much of what fans clamor for (aside from the horrific Aric Almirola wreck – we are praying for his recovery), but did it resonate?
Early returns seem to indicate that besides Almirola’s awful wreck, fans loved the race. There was not much about which to complain: the race saw 21 lead changes and most were amongst the front-running cars. Race winner Martin Truex Jr. led a race-high 104 laps, but led six different times and made a decisive pass on the final restart on pole-sitter Ryan Blaney. Five of the six times Truex Jr. took the lead, he had to pass Blaney, whose crew’s lightning-quick pit stops and number one pit stall launched his Ford off of pit road first a number of times.
Young Blaney brought the Wood Brothers No.21 team its first top qualifying spot since 2004 and led 83 laps. He also won Stage 2 and stayed in the top 5 all race long. Blaney was primed for his first-career win, but Truex Jr. got the best of him and Blaney eventually faded to 4th at the finish.
Kyle Busch (and all of his Truck-winning glory) had a fast piece, led 59 laps, and won Stage 1. He also is chomping at the bit for his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race win in 10 months. Busch’s car, though, fell off on the last longer run of the race, but he and Kevin Harvick both challenged for the win on the final restart.
The new low-downforce package, Goodyear’s softer tires, and Kansas’ now slightly-aged pavement played fits with cars all weekend. Eight of the 12 wrecks were single-car spins. Points leader Kyle Larson cashed his primary car in during Friday practice. The cars this weekend were very much on edge and that created cautions, seemed to create passing, and kept the fastest cars in the race to decide the finish amongst themselves.
NASCAR journalist Jeff Gluck’s post-race Twitter poll of more than 4,000 people showed that 84% of them thought Kansas was a good race. This data follows an extremely dramatic and well-attended Talladega race last week, a great short track stretch at Martinsville, Bristol, and Richmond, a decent debut of Texas’ new racing surface, and an extremely compelling event at Auto Club Speedway in California. Can the sport carry this momentum?
The next races are the All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Charlotte races bring an electricity, but sometimes a mixed bag of results. Lest we not forget how Truex Jr. absolutely dominated last year’s 600 or some of the All-Star clunkers in recent years. Then the MENCS hits Dover, Pocono, and Michigan, each of which has offered very tepid racing more often than not. The bar is set high for all of these events, given the fantastic last two months on the track.
NASCAR announced this morning a fourth stage being added to the 600, making for stages at 100-lap intervals through the whole race. That should liven up the long stretches of racing. The best thing the sport could possibly see right now is another month of drama to carry into Sonoma Raceway in June. Continued good racing through the pack will validate NASCAR’s decision to create stages this season.