NASCAR entered its first open weekend after competing in its first dirt race since 1970 and once the dust finally settled on Monday after being pushed back after flooding took place in the Bristol area, it was time to take a break and enjoy the first open weekend on the schedule.
Bristol gave us something we hadn’t seen in over 50 years and even though there were plenty of bumps along the way, the blueprint to do it again next season had been set.
Bristol’s dusty half-mile track was the seventh stop on the early NASCAR Cup Series schedule and when Joey Logano survived a late race caution to capture the checkered flag it continues a trend that began at Daytona.
Nobody knew that when Michael McDowell won the season opening Daytona 500 that we would be in April and still be waiting to see a driver post his second win of the season.
The regular-season determines the 16 drivers that will advance to the final 10-race playoff portion of the schedule with the opportunity to run of the title and in a normal year a win locks you into the playoffs.
The trend of different drivers winning each week could put that in jeopardy as some of the biggest names in the sport has yet to win this season.
Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and defending series champion Chase Elliott are just some of the drivers that have not yet crossed the finish line first and the odds are that each of these drivers will win a race before the championship field is set.
While we are seeing some unusual names on the list of winners such as McDowell and Christopher Bell, the usual organizations are still producing the drivers to beat on race day.
Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske each have three different drivers ranked in the top-10 with the only other organization represented in the top-10 being Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick. Sixteen different winners during the regulars season has never happened before and it may or may not happen this year but either way the seven different winners to start the season has put pressure on every team to collect as many points as they can on race day.
Denny Hamlin is a good example of how to collect points even though he has yet to win a race as he has finished in the top-5 in all but one race with his other finish an eleventh. He has also been able to cash in on the points awarded at the end of the first two stages as he has scored points in 13 of the 14 stages with three stage wins.
He leads the point stands going into Martinsville this weekend with a 58-point lead over Joey Logano. This time last season Hamlin was in eighth in the point standings but had already posted two wins that as it turned out locked him into the playoff field.
This look back to last year should have the rest of the field worried about their path to the playoffs as the number of teams this season making it into the playoff field on their standings in the points may be at an all-time low. PIT NOTES: Stewart-Haas Racing had all four of its drivers in the 2020 playoff field but now finds itself struggling as only Kevin Harvick is in the top-10 at tenth.
Teammates Aric Almirola, Cole Custer and Chase Briscoe find themselves outside of the top-20 and even more alarming is that the trio has yet to score a top-10 finish. Almirola is the biggest question mark for the organization as last year he qualified for the playoffs by finishing eighth in the regular standings and after the first seven races of the season he now finds himself 84 points below the cutoff line in 28th place.
Of course, a win would change everything for his Ford team but this is not the season to count on a win to turn around your season.