Through the Field: Not Done Yet
I noticed a common thread with the two most recent NASCAR Cup Series winners. Despite the many differences, from career experience to driving style and much more in-between, Tyler Reddick & Kevin Harvick’s victories signified getting back to where they feel they belong after seeing mountains of doubt on their shoulders.
For Reddick, that doubt was never about driver talent or ability. His No. 8 team got their first win at Road America in early July. But shortly after that, Reddick announced he would move to 23XI Racing in 2024. At that point, I’m sure parts of the team and those on the outside were a bit shaken up. Would they be able to continue their positive momentum and continue to succeed? Or would they now be the lame-duck of the garage and be stuck in somewhat of a purgatory until more of the future was settled?
The team showed absolutely none of that doubt and earned a dominant win at the Indianapolis Road Course, firmly cementing them in contention for a championship.
As for Harvick, much of the talk was about the driver and team ability. I’ve discussed at length how Stewart-Haas Racing hasn’t seemed as dominant as they once were. But perhaps its most scrutinized driver was Harvick; was he past his prime? Could he ever make it back to victory lane, not having won since September 2020? How soon will he retire if he can’t do it anymore?
While one win doesn’t answer all the questions, it certainly has done enough to deservedly shut up critics like myself who believed Harvick was over the hill and couldn’t get it done anymore.
And now, with three races left in the regular season, other drivers will have to figure out how to get it done to make the playoffs. We now have 15 different winners and only 16 playoff spots. Who will need a win, and who will go all out to get it at Richmond and Watkins Glen in the next two weeks?
Richmond & Watkins Glen: Make-or-Break Drivers
Bubba Wallace: Generally the hottest topic of conversation in the garage, Bubba Wallace was beside himself after a second-place finish at Michigan, believing he failed his team by not taking the checkered flag. The overall story is that Wallace’s No. 23 team has been more consistent than ever of late, earning four straight top-10 finishes, including at tracks that Wallace has never run well at. It won’t be easy to get a win, but we know the man behind the wheel has all the passion, and the car may just be good enough along with it to get it done.
Martin Truex Jr.: All things considered, it’s been a weird season for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). They’ve had plenty of success and victories, and three of their four drivers are in the playoffs. The one who isn’t, Martin Truex Jr., is currently fourth in the main driver standings. But in this format, wins are king, and Truex Jr.’s No. 19 team doesn’t have one. The loss at New Hampshire when they had the dominant car has to sting a lot more now that they’re on the outside looking in.
Yet, the tracks ahead have been good to Truex Jr. He’s been dominant at Richmond in the past. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him lock in as the 16th winner, securing his place in the playoffs because of his points advantage.
Erik Jones: Erik Jones’ lack of a win and perhaps a lack of consistency doesn’t tell the full story for his No. 43 team. Without factoring in playoffs and wins, Jones is currently 14th in the points standings and would be 11th if not for a minor penalty earlier in the season.
We all know Jones’ talent as a driver from his time with JGR, and the team has had excellent runs this year. Can they put it all together and pull off an upset victory? We’ll have to wait and see.