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The engines are fired up and just like that we are three races into the 2019 NASCAR season. From the drop of the first green flag, there has been no shortage of storylines. As always, the buildup and hype of the Daytona 500 had fans reeling to see how the race would unfold. The usual carnage ensued, but when the checkers flew, a heartfelt story was created. Denny Hamlin’s second 500 win, along with his teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones taking 2nd and 3rd, it was the perfect salute to the passing of Joe Gibbs Racing’s JD Gibbs. When things are meant to be, they are meant to be and in this case everyone in the NASCAR garage approved of this conclusion to the 61st running of the Great American Race.
Moving into the Atlanta race the mystery of the new car rules packages was the buzz in every-one’s ear. How would the racing play out? Did NASCAR hit the right combination to increase the entertainment factor? It seemed to work well in Atlanta, as racing was filled with multiple leaders and solid battles for position throughout the field. Seeing drivers like Chris Buescher, Daniel Hemric and Ryan Preece running in the mix of the top 10 all day, showed the doors are open for any team to log strong results this season.
The Las Vegas qualifying sessions continued the theme when they got the racing weekend started off in an interesting fashion to say the least. Requirements of new aero ducts, designed to push air out the front wheel wells to create a draft to make slingshot passes, seemed to have all the drivers and teams stumped on how to lay down a fast lap. In my view, it created a frustrating scene in the final qualifying session where every driver sat parked on pit row in a cat and mouse game, to time the perfect scenario to get the ultimate push, pull effect. It took the skills of driving out of the equation and I would bet there will be several pow wows in the coming weeks on how it all unfolded. Once the race fired off, I was eager and assuming that the action was going to be intense. But just like always you can’t predict NASCAR! The restarts gave fans something to stand up and cheer about, but the racing action panned out to the normal rise of the drivers/crew chiefs who found the setup and put themselves in the position to win.
Culminating the events from the first few mile and a half race tracks brings us to the fact that NASCAR is in the entertainment business and searching desperately to find a way to keep the attention of the short duration focus that viewers of content have in this day and age. So, if the racing is tight and you combine that with the stages in each race, they might be narrowing down on a key goal. Finding a way to keep the core fans happy and draw in some fresh eyes.
Then there’s 7 time. Through the three races thus far, a lot of eyes have been focused on Jimmie Johnson, his new crew chief pairing with Kevin Meendering, and how the Hendrick operation fairs in the race results. Aside from Jimmie winning The Clash, things have been trending to the down-side just like last season. Issues out of his control in the Daytona 500 held him back. But his performances at Atlanta (2 laps down) and Las Vegas (1 lap down) has all the NASCAR nation scratching their heads, and I’m sure he and his crew had to be using a few choice words when reflecting on how eve-rything transpired. Let’s hope he and the Hendrick team as a whole can find the formula to be competitive, because a racey #48 will make our Sunday’s that much better to tune into.
Now it’s time to finish out the west coast swing; the Penske team surely has everything going in the right direction. Other drivers like Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson all need to clean up a few hiccups that have prevented them from standing in victory lane. But the beauty of NASCAR racing is every weekend is a fresh slate, with a ton of opportunities to flip the script.