So, what did we learn from Charlotte last Saturday night?
Well, we learned that NASCAR’s home track for most teams still provides us with good racing that keeps us watching. Kyle Busch has never won a Cup race there, but he once again was the class of the field most of the night. He might have wound up second, but after leading nearly two-thirds of the way he was the star of the evening.
We learned that nice guys can finish first. You sure get the feeling that Jamie McMurray is a nice guy, one who is thankful for where he is and what has happened to him this season. From not being sure where, if anywhere, he might be driving this year, he has claimed wins at three of the circuits most revered venues.
We learned that Jimmie Johnson can get loose, go for a slide, fade back to 37th place, and still wind up third on the day. Now only two drivers, fourth place finisher Denny Hamlin (41) and Kevin Harvick (77), remain within a hundred points of the defending champion with only five events left in the season. You can almost hear the fat lady warming up.
We have learned that there remain those who believe having a driver seek a fifth straight title as being something of a bad thing. What nonsense. We are in a special era that will be long remembered, just as we presently honor the New York Yankees of the 1950’s and the 1960’s Boston Celtics. True dynasties both, yet neither faced 42 competitors as Johnson has faced each race week. Five straight crowns is something to be celebrated and remembered. I hope we get the chance to do just that.
We learned how important an alternator can be, as did Jeff Gordon. No power, no go, and if that wasn’t bad enough, a late speeding penalty in the pits really put this one to bed. He finished 23rd, and while Gordon remains fourth in the hunt, the 156 point deficit has curtailed any celebrations he might have been planning.
We learned that even in North Carolina, the outside lane made more than a few feel like they were on an Alaskan ice road. Kurt Busch was an early victim, as was Ryan Newman. In fact, the Rocket’s problem became that of his boss when Tony Stewart got run into when the boys hit the brakes. None would be a factor.
We learned that it does not matter how many cars you have in the Chase, you might not win if they come together. Clint Bowyer found Jeff Burton cutting across his bow, and hit ramming speed. Neither would be in the top fifteen, though team mate Harvick managed to finish eighth.
We learned that things are not getting better for Dale Earnhardt Jr, and doubtful they will anytime this season. Charlotte found him 29th, the thirteenth time he has been outside the top twenty this campaign. I wish I knew what the problem was and its solution. Whoever does probably could wind up with a lifetime of free drinks at Whiskey River.
Next up is Martinsville, where legends have been known to win a bunch. Those who have won three straight or more there include Fred Lorenzen, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, and Jimmie Johnson. Denny Hamlin could join them, having won the last two. As he could soon be the only legitimate challenger left for Johnson’s title, this would be the time. Enjoy the week.