Each week, Greg Atkins and I examine our hot takes from the previous weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race and any burning topics leading up to the next week’s event.
Four takeaways from the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway:
Biggest takeaway from Auto Club:
Atkins – Kyle Larson and his Chip Ganassi Racing team are capable of dominating races. Larson controlled the majority of the race and was able to fight his way to victory on numerous late-race restarts. The future is bright for Larson and his team appears to be a bonafide championship contender.
Painter – Clint Bowyer’s impressive third-place finish, marked his first top-5 since 2015. Bowyer is growing more and more comfortable with his Stewart-Haas Racing team and I am interested to see what kind of success they will have throughout the rest of the season.
This season, NASCAR has limited the number of sets of tires that teams can use during a race, from 12 to 10, is this good for on-track action?
Atkins – Absoutely. Fewer sets of tires mean that drivers and teams will need to be more cautious and strategic with their tires and this can produce a greater variance in strategies.
Painter – Definitely. It makes pit strategy for tires so much more important than in year’s past. Teams also have to gamble a little bit early in a race if there are several cautions right off the bat. I enjoyed seeing the varying strategies at Auto Club with short-pitting. Kyle Busch stayed out much longer on the last long green-flag run and it almost paid off.
Kyle Larson has had a phenomenal start to the 2017 season, is it too early to consider him a championship threat?
Atkins – As I said above, Larson and his team are absolutely title contenders.
Painter – Not at all, especially when you look at his performance thus far. His worst finish is 12th at Daytona followed by three straight second-place finishes and the win at Auto Club. That looks like a championship formula to me.
Five races into the season, is there one driver/team that needs to step up their on track performance?
Atkins – Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t performed as well as they did last year in large part due to struggles to finish where they ran all day. The season is still early and they have plenty of time to right the ship.
Painter – JTG-Daugherty Racing entered the season with high hopes after expanding to a two-car operation and adding driver Chris Buescher. Currently, AJ Allmendinger is 30th in the points standings and Buescher is in 32nd. Still a long way to go, but some changes might be in store.
Fuel (bold prediction or statement) – We have seen several on-track altercations between drivers in the first 5 races, most notably between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. Could we see any retaliation at Martinsville next week?
Atkins – Probably not, but that’s not to say a new conflict couldn’t arise during 500 laps around Martinsville.
Painter – Anything can happen. As we saw with Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth in 2015, the feud may seem to be over, but Martinsville has a strange way of bringing out a driver’s temper. This is how it goes when short tracks come around.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Huff (apertureone.net)