Identifying the driver who belongs in the conversation behind the “Big 3” remains an elusive task.
Since it was clear at the beginning of the season Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. were pretty much head and shoulders above everyone else in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the quest to find a suitable challenger has changed on a weekly basis.
It pretty much goes like this; whenever Harvick, Busch or Truex Jr. don’t win a race – and for the record that’s only happened 12 times this year over 30 races – that’s the driver who becomes the centerpiece in the belongs in the ‘Big 3’ conversational universe.
When Clint Bowyer won the snow-delayed Monday Martinsville race ending a winless drought that had reached 190, boom he was the guy that was going to rise up to the challenge. Bowyer’s victory stopped Harvick’s three-in-a-row streak so naturally it made him an instant title contender in some folks’ minds.
But then Kyle Busch rattled off three straight wins.
Joey Logano found Victory Lane at Talladega continuing his impressive restrictor-plate track performance and ending a dry spell of his own. Automatically Logano was heralded as being back from his subpar 2017 effort when his missed the playoffs.
However, that talk disappeared in the next two weeks when Harvick led more than half the race to win at Dover and followed up with a Mother’s Day weekend victory in Kansas.
The pattern continued through the summer stretch and into the early fall. Hey Erik Jones, congratulations on your first Cup win at Daytona and welcome to the party! Great run to win the Bristol night race Kurt Busch, see you in Miami!
In fairness when Brad Keselowski put a three-peat of his own together to race into the playoffs, the Team Penske driver rightfully earned his spot on the championship radar. Even if Keselowski was nearly apologetic in the manner his wins came all helped with a healthy dose of pit strategy and circumstances playing into the hand of the No. 2 team, his wins were all legit and there had been signs of elusive speed being found weeks earlier.
Now it’s Chase Elliott’s turn to join the fun. His Dover win last Sunday actually was the second time Elliott has been thrust into the picture with his first career Cup win at Watkins Glen the first. Elliott has already done the heavy lifting in Round 2 and his win advances him to the Round of 8 and his possible chance to run for a title in Miami.
He might actually do it. But will he or anyone else do it versus can they do it are two completely different scenarios. Harvick, Busch and Truex Jr. all stumbled in Dover and there’s at least a chance it could happen again, especially with Talladega lurking ahead this Sunday.
I’m still not convinced just yet there’s anyone near the trio’s level and expect them all to be in the Miami finale competing for second career championships.
Who will join them is anyone’s guess and one that will no doubt continue to be made regularly over the next six weeks.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.