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Jones captured his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.
Jones captured his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win in the Coke Zero Sugar 400. (Photo: Getty Images)

Opinion: Breath of Fresh Air

Have you noticed anything different around the NASCAR world in recent weeks? No “The Big Three” are still dominant despite Erik Jones winning last week in Daytona and the struggles of the Chevrolet camp continue. But there has definitely been a change since the calendar turned to July.

Racing, you know the actual on-track product, has been the focal point of conversation, discussion and coverage. After nearly a half season full of penalties, infractions, inspection issues, air gun failures and rules package changes, it’s been so refreshing to concentrate on just competition.

Sure last Friday’s Daytona Xfinity Series finish and out of bounds call on Justin Haley has generated debate. But both the Chicagoland and Daytona weekends created more storylines around the racing than what felt like the first four months of the year combined.

It’s not surprising given what transpired. The epic last lap battle between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson at Chicagoland, which did carry its own controversy, will be on highlight reels for years to come. Not since the last lap of the Daytona 500 when Austin Dillon and Aric Almirola made contact leading to Dillon’s win has a finish to a race made local sportscasts around the country as well as national news.

Last Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona may not have been everyone’s cup of tea given the nature of restrictor plate racing and the numerous crashes that permeated the race. But those seeking intensity and drama culminating with another lap last duel and a first time winner certainly were satisfied.

For whatever the reason there’s a renewed energy in the air as the summer stretch rolls on. It starts with good racing and entertainment but there are other factors to be considered.

Jones winning fulfilled the need by many fans of seeing someone not named Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. or even Clint Bowyer in Victory Lane. Fresh faces and first time winners are usually popular and Jones winning at Daytona was no exception.

The debut of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the NBC broadcast booth has also provided a spark and attention. While it would be foolish to think any announcer, even one with the magnitude of adoration enjoyed by Earnhardt Jr. can positively impact the ratings, reviews of his work and NBC’s early 2018 telecasts have been quite favorable.

And the schedule changes inside the second half of the schedule have also triggered more interest or at least intrigue. The tracks might be the same, with the exception of Charlotte’s new road course that debuts in September and a flip of ISM Raceway in Phoenix, but the order is different and enough to break the stale schedule pattern many have bemoaned.

Any sport thrives or struggles around its competition. There are no guarantees how things will play out either way. But when it’s good, people take notice.

Lately for NASCAR things have been very good.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.