One thing that pops out at you are some of the unfamiliar names among our Hot 20 after a couple of races. Even more so, all the familiar names not there.
No Jimmie Johnson. No Kyle Busch. No Dale Earnhardt Jr. It is early, and a couple of stage wins at Las Vegas could move them up. A win certainly would, but for now, their usual places are being held by someone else.
One is a definite Hall of Famer. Hell, they all are, especially when you consider that every eligible driver with 25 wins or more is already there, with the exception of Jim Paschal. I would expect that 25 race winner to make it soon enough. Just not this year. This week, the nominees for the class of 2018 were announced.
I thought I knew who I would vote for. Then I saw all the names, and it got a bit complicated. For one, just where in hell is Smokey Yunick’s name? A legendary mechanic, builder, and crew chief who came up with innovations that prompted NASCAR’s rule book to come up with restrictions to counter them. You know all those templates the cars need to fit today? You can blame Smokey for that. To say that he was not a fan of the France family is a bit of an understatement. The fact Yunick remains off the ballot would seem to indicate the feeling was mutual…and still is. That is a damned shame.
Who would I put in? Broadcaster Ken Squier, without hesitation. NASCAR still awaits his successor, the voice that you can just lean back and ride along with on a summer afternoon as you tinker with your own wheels out on the driveway under a blue sky. As for the other nominees, as I said, it gets complicated. Is 25 wins a benchmark for drivers, or do other factors come into play, such as a championship or a tragic loss? How do we determine which owner, which crew chief, what engine builder is deserving? How much weight do you give to those in Cup, compared to other NASCAR series? A lot of deserving names, popular choices, but which five to be included in the Class of 2018? You could say that to try and forecast the outcome is going to be a bit of a crap shoot.
They are used to that, I guess, in Las Vegas, as the gambler’s paradise is going to get a second race next season. Okay, but where was it going to come from? It makes sense economically to put another event in a town that is just one great big attraction itself. Just as long as it did not take away from a track that features action most love to watch. Not Daytona, Not Talladega, Not Bristol. Instead, the Magic Mile of Loudon, New Hampshire loses its September date after a 21-year run. It was a transfer between two properties owned by Speedway Motorsports’ Bruton Smith, who himself is a Hall of Famer.
One good bet is that Smith will be joined in the Hall, some day, by the first three names you see among our Hot 20 heading into Las Vegas.
1. KURT BUSCH – 1 WIN – 86 PTS
Forget yoga, as nothing relaxes a driver more than a Daytona 500 win and a pass to the Chase.
2. BRAD KESELOWSKI – 1 WIN – 84 PTS
Dear Kevin: Many thanks. Love, Brad.
3. KEVIN HARVICK – 90 PTS
Dear Brad: Kiss my butt. Love, Kevin.
4. CHASE ELLIOTT – 82 PTS
Not a question of if, but when. He is the “next one.”
5. JOEY LOGANO – 80 PTS
When it comes to Las Vegas, Joey is great…but has yet to seal the deal.
6. KYLE LARSON – 79 PTS
Low, low, high, goodbye. Atlanta could have been different if only…
7. MARTIN TRUEX JR. – 67 PTS
For him, Las Vegas is more like a Kansas song. You know, “Dust in the Wind.”
8. KASEY KAHNE – 63 PTS
According to this chart, the second best damn driver for Hendrick.
9. RYAN BLANEY – 63 PTS
Team was born in 1950. The Legend was born in 1953. The driver was born in 1993.
10. TREVOR BAYNE – 58 PTS
Performance Plus is the sponsor. Performance plus is what they are looking for on Sunday.
11. JAMIE MCMURRAY – 49 PTS
Once trailed Allmendinger until A.J.’s 35 point penalty for his lack of lug nuts at Atlanta.
12. ARIC ALMIROLA – 47 PTS
Some say not a good fantasy pick at the moment. To be honest, I’ve never fantasized about him.
13. CLINT BOWYER – 46 PTS
After the last couple of years, this is just freaking awesome!
14. PAUL MENARD – 44 PTS
Name his sponsor. Wrong. It is Valvoline…and Menards.
15. MATT KENSETH – 41 PTS
Along with Jimmie, Junior, Kasey, and Trevor, he likes to ride bicycles. Manly bicycles.
16. COLE WHITT – 38 PTS
Good start for TriStar Motorsports and its 25-year old wheel man. Can he keep the No. 72 up there?
17. RYAN NEWMAN – 37 PTS
17th trip to Las Vegas, but third is the best he has done (2015).
18. MATT DIBENEDETTO – 37 PTS
Ninth at Daytona. 28th at Atlanta. A betting man might not like his odds for Sunday.
19. DENNY HAMLIN – 37 PTS
A messed up rear end (on the car, not the driver) ruined his march down to Georgia.
20. LANDON CASSILL – 36 PTS