It is startling to think that with Sunday’s running of the Drydene 400 at Dover, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series regular season will be half over. And it is difficult to get my arms around what we have seen.
Michael McDowell gets his career-first win – in the Daytona 500. Christopher Bell gets his career-first win the next weekend on the Daytona Road Course. Staying in Florida it was William Byron with his second-career win at Homestead.
Not sure the Vegas odds on a McDowell, Bell, Byron sweep of the first three races. I wonder which is the longer shot: that, or a Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott winless first dozen races. Both would be on the money in this year.
For Hamlin it has been a strong start to the season, doing everything but winning. Harvick has salvaged some good finishes out while trying to find the speed to run up front. And, I am not even sure what is going on with Elliott. Talk about odds: who would have three Hendrick Motorsports drivers winning and the odd-man-out being Elliott.
And yet, it would not surprise me to see those be three of the four vying for the Championship in Phoenix in November.
Once we cleared the first three races it was out of Florida with Kyle Larson making his return to Victory Lane after a year in his life for the ages.
Race five – Phoenix, and a bit of “normalcy” with Martin Truex Jr. getting his first win of the season. From that point on, Truex has established himself as the man to beat with wins at Martinsville and Darlington. If he repeats that in the fall, the only way he is not Champion would be an epic disaster in round two of the playoffs.
I get the sense watching Truex this year that we have seen this before. A few years back when Martin was paired with crew chief Cole Pearn, it seemed like at times when they turned it on it was a race for second. James Small is now the crew chief on that team and after watching Darlington I sensed that old Truex-Pearn strength. The driver, the car, the strategy, and the pit stops were seemingly flawless.
We had the dirt at Bristol with Joey Logano getting the win, his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski doing what he does in winning Talladega. Ryan Blaney won Atlanta with Alex Bowman getting the victory at Richmond. And then there was Kyle Busch winning Kansas.
To me, that Kyle Busch effort is going to be one of the most fascinating teams to watch over the second half of this regular season. I sense they are hitting their stride and with the talent in that car and on that team; my hunch is more wins are on the way, possibly Sunday at Dover where he is a three-time winner.
As we put a bow around the first half of this regular season; the second half leads to many more fascinating twists and turns -- literally. New road courses with Circuit of the Americas, Road America and Indianapolis are upcoming as well as the familiar Sonoma and Watkins Glen. The series returns to the concrete at Nashville. There is 600 miles at Charlotte, a Pocono Double, a Texas All-Star Race, a big track in Michigan, a flat mile in New Hampshire, and another Atlanta visit.
Which all leads us back to where we started in Daytona with the always uncertain Superspeedway summer classic, wrapping up the regular season and set the field for the Championship run.
I have never been one to predict what we are going to see in NASCAR, or any other forms of racing.
If the first half is any indication, I will make one prediction: that is that it will be unpredictable.
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