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NASCAR Darlington

Through the Field: First Impressions

by Elliot Hicks

As we are now 11 races into the era of the “Next Gen” NASCAR Cup Series car, it’s safe to say that the first impression has been made.

Generally, it seems like we’ve seen better racing. It’s been more difficult to drive these cars, which is what the drivers and fans wanted. Some tracks which appeared dead and gone have become exciting again with the new vehicles taking the stage.

As for who’s winning, it’s largely been the same. Every Hendrick Motorsports driver has already won. Stewart-Haas Racing has rediscovered some success after a poor season. Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske are still threats. But newer and weaker teams, such as Trackhouse Racing and Richard Childress Racing, are putting themselves in the conversation for multiple wins as well.

But, in racing, as in life, it’s important to note that first impressions aren’t everything.

Is it beneficial to make a good first impression? Of course, it is. It can set you on a great track to whatever your goals may be in this case, winning a Cup Series title.

But if you haven’t made the best first impression, that doesn’t mean that hopes are dead and gone.

For example, Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing has dug itself into a deep hole with inconsistencies and a major penalty on its No. 6 car. But we just watched Chris Buescher’s No. 17 win the pole at Dover and run consistently well all race long.

There’s still so much of the story to be written this season with the new car. But with that being said, here are some drivers who need to pick it up if their hopes of a title can become a reality and have that opportunity starting in Darlington this weekend.

Drivers That Need to Step Up Their Games in Darlington

Denny Hamlin:  Denny Hamlin is locked into the playoffs via his victory at Richmond. But outside of that, his No. 11 team has either been snakebit by bad luck and/or maddeningly inconsistent in the first third of the season. That victory is Hamlin’s only top-10 finish of 2022, and he’s finished outside the top-20 in six races.

It’s obvious that Hamlin has at least championship-adjacent caliber talent but he will need to put together good runs to not be at a significant disadvantage heading into the playoffs.

Tyler Reddick:  Tyler Reddick has run so well this year, but the finishes just haven’t been there. We’ve seen before that until a driver gets their first win over the line, it can seem extremely difficult to put a full race together. And unbelievably, despite Reddick seemingly being one of the most dominant drivers thus far, his No. 8 is on the outside looking in of the playoff picture. Once he does get that first win, things should be better. But for now, I’m more worried about Reddick than most.

Joey Logano:  Joey Logano’s No. 22 isn’t having a bad season, but I can’t say he’s having a good season either. Alarm bells aren’t starting to go off yet, but I have to be slightly alarmed about any veteran driver who hasn’t yet won and hasn’t been consistently strong in the Next Gen car. Four finishes outside the top 20 (albeit two of those coming at Daytona and Talladega) isn’t the best start. I have faith Logano can put it back together, but be careful.

Thanks for reading. For more fantasy NASCAR picks and life advice, follow me on Twitter, @EHicks39, or check out more of my work at Elliot-Hicks.com.

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