MONTE DUTTON: WHAT WE HALFWAY KNOW
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s surprise victory in the Coke Zero 400 – an even bigger surprise is that it was his second win of the season – occurred in the 17th race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. It seems natural that the halfway point of the season would be in Daytona Beach, Fla., but it isn’t.
It’s at Kentucky Speedway, nestled near both the Ohio River and Ohio, between Louisville of Kentucky and Cincinnati of Ohio. Give it a month, and it’ll be a trick trivia question.
What it will also be is a greater measure of where NASCAR is at its halfway point.
Both of Stenhouse’s victories are at “plate tracks.” The season just has one more. It takes a lot of skill to win at Daytona and Talladega, but it’s a different kind of skill that what is required where the speeds aren’t slowed down artificially. A driver once told me that a plate track requires a driver to use the brakes at the same time he has the throttle wide open. If he lets that horsepower slip, it’ll take a straightaway to get it back up to speed.
Not only is that difficult. It’s just plain weird.
It’s also interesting to watch, and it’s good for the weekend before Independence Day because fireworks abound. I wonder if some of those fiery wrecks can be seen from space. I guess if they could, I’d probably know it. Maybe one day they’ll show a view from a satellite instead of the Goodyear Blimp. It’ll likely be a bit grainy.
Many are undoubtedly going to be writing and talking about how Roush Fenway Racing is back. It’s better but not back. It’s back in restrictor-plate races. All four of them. A win on a “regular” track, be it short, intermediate or road, would establish credibility for Stenhouse, his team and teammate Trevor Bayne, whose only career victory was also at a plate track, Daytona.
Meanwhile, Kyle Busch hasn’t won a race in which points are awarded. Joey Logano hasn’t won one where points, at least playoff points, were awarded. Matt Kenseth hasn’t won. Denny Hamlin hasn’t won. Chase Elliott hasn’t won. Jamie McMurray hasn’t won. Clint Bowyer hasn’t won. Many of the 11 drivers who have won were only marginally expected to do so.
Only nine races remain in the regular season. Time to the playoffs is getting short.