The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series hasn’t yet generated the memorable moments that punctuated much of last season.
Granted it’s still relatively early and the campaign only has a quarter of the schedule in the books. But so far the series is still trying to define itself.
Two main storylines have consumed the landscape; the domination by Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske as well as the new rules package. JGR and Team Penske have run the table since the beginning of the year with all nine race winners coming from one of the two organizations. They have completely shut out the rest of the garage, much to the chagrin Stewart-Haas Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and a host of other teams.
But it’s the rules focus and its many by products that have mainly consumed the conversation. The drastic changes in horsepower and aerodynamic modifications coupled with the different variations of the two employed every week has consumed the sport. It’s put a magnifying glass over every aspect of the racing weekend.
I sometimes wonder what the reaction would be to each week’s on track product if the fan base didn’t know the details and nuances of the rules. Would the racing be judged differently without the knowledge of engine components, spoiler sizes and aero ducts? On the one hand it’s important for the sport to be transparent and the technical aspect of auto racing has its appeal to many. But all too often the focus becomes what’s on the cars and not what’s happening on the track.
The reality is despite the JGR-Penske juggernaut, it’s been a solid year of competition. Five different drivers have visited Victory Lane in the opening nine races. That’s the same number at this juncture a year ago, which was a stretch including both Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick putting together three race winning streaks. Margins of victory have been tight and for the most part both the statistical measuring points as well as the eyeball test have been positive.
However, there has yet to be that watercooler race to stimulate conversation. A last lap pass for the win, controversial finish or good old fashioned driver rivalry hasn’t materialized. Those were plentiful last season especially in the second half of the year.
This week’s visit to Talladega certainly has the opportunity to generate some of that energy. The Alabama track has created more than its share of moments in its previous 99 Cup races.
Maybe it will happen again on Sunday. I’d much rather talk about something memorable happening on track than radiator pan diameters, splitter overhang or tapered spacers.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.