First of all, a massive thanks once again to everyone who took the time to fill in my reader survey a month or so ago. One of the questions on the survey centered around possibly extending the coverage on this blog to include another series, and almost 60% of the responses suggested they’d like to see NASCAR covered on the site, so here we go! If you like this new addition to the blog please do get in touch and let me know, if NASCAR turns into a popular outlet I’ll aim to start writing some regular posts on the series.
I must admit, although I’ve followed NASCAR on a superficial level for a while, it’s only been this season that I’ve really began to understand what the series is about and just how exciting it is. I can only assume part of that is down the fact that there are races almost every week, and as a motorsport fan I love the opportunity to be able to sit down every Sunday evening and watch three hours of motorsport. Because I’m in the UK and US East Coast is around five hours behind it means I can watch NASCAR without it clashing with the mid afternoon slots of F1 and British Touring Cars, which I think is great. So, on to the weekend.
The Brickyard 400 caps off a great weekend of motorsport and after it’s conclusion we will only be six rounds away from the start of the chase, which looks like omitting some big name players. There’s a real battle hotting up now around the final chase spots with Austin Dillon in 13th through to Allmendinger in 21st all in with a chance of making it to Chicagoland Speedway with a shot at what will be the final Sprint Cup Series title. Ahead of one of the biggest races of the year I’ve given my take on a few of the biggest stories and talking points making the headlines ahead of this weekend’s Brickyard 400.
Jeff Gordon Returns
I wonder if Jeff Gordon envisaged returning to NASCAR so soon after hanging up his racing gloves? Gordon will step up to replace the injured Dale Earnhardt Jnr at Indianapolis and Ponoco, stepping into the car Alex Bowman piloted to 26th on Sunday in New Hampshire. Although the news will come as somewhat of a huge blow to Earnhardt Jnr, whose spot in the chase is coming under increasing threat it’s certainly going to be exciting to see the four time veteran get back in a front running car. How Gordon will stack up against his competitors is still up for debate, but I think after just a few months out the car we can expect Gordon to get back up to speed relatively quickly. Gordon failed to finish at the Brickyard in 2015 but will be a valuable asset in Hendrick’s quest to get back to victory lane.
We’ve seen Tony Stewart come back and take a race victory at Sonoma Raceway earlier this season and whilst I’m not predicting Gordon to pilot the #88 straight into victory lane (like in did in 1994, 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2014) I think a top 20 finish could certainly be on the cards. Gordon is only going to improve as the weekend wears on and if we are under caution with just a few laps to go on Sunday who knows what could happen. It’s about time Hendrick Motorsports had something to cheer about after a unfortunate downturn in form since the start of the year and with Gordon on board for Indy and Ponoco then Johnson and Co have a valuable ally in their fight against those Toyota’s.
Important Weekend For Jimmie Johnson
Continuing with the Hendrick theme, I think the the Brickyard 400 is an important weekend for the #48. After a storming start to the year with wins in Atlanta and at the Auto Club 400 Johnson has had a poor run of form of late which has yielded just four top ten finishes in 14 races. Hardly the sort of form you want to be carrying into the chase with the likes of Busch, Kenseth and Harvick breathing down your neck. I’m not sure if securing a chase berth so early in the season has had an impact or not, but I think it’s important to keep running at the front to hit the first round in top form and ensure avoiding the knockout. Arguably poor strategy calls played a part in Johnson’s downfall last weekend after a strong pole position but I think with Earnhardt out the picture, Kahne struggling to secure a spot in the chase and just the sensational rookie season of Chase Elliot to rest upon Hendrick need Johnson to bag a strong result.
Keslowski the Man in Form
The Penske Ford’s have had much stronger showings in races of late and NASCAR’s form man Brad Keslowski, who has taken victory in two of the last four races along with Logano has a real shot at victory on Sunday. Logano, who finished 2nd just behind Kyle Busch at Indianapolis last season has finished in the top five in five out of the last six races and has been strong at the Brickyard in the past, also running well in New Hampshire all race long. Both Penske Ford’s should be considered among the favourites for victory and when taking into account recent form, look to be Joe Gibbs Racing’s biggest threat on Sunday afternoon.
And What Of The Rest?
The NASCAR field is full of so much quality that it’s impossible to predict a consistent top ten week in week out, but there are a number of drivers both in and out of contention for the chase who could do with good weekends. Kasey Kahne currently sits in 18th in the championship, and out of the chase grid. 9th, 30th, 14th and 25th from the last four races hardly make strong reading for a car and driver combo well capable of reaching the halfway point of the chase but we all know how fickle NASCAR is, and after finishing down in 24th at the Brickyard last season could Kahne be due a good weekend in his quest for the chase? Only time will tell but I think we could well see Chase Elliott following Johnson home again.
Another rookie, Ryan Blaney has also had a strong first season in the series and sits just on the cusp of the chase in 17th. With Bayne, Kahne and Larson in close company Blaney finds himself up among some tough competitors in his battle to reach the chase grid in September but coming off a strong 11th place in New Hampshire, Blaney should run strongly at Indianapolis this weekend.
My prediction, a win for any of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota’s with Truex and the Penske Ford’s in close company just behind.