Well, another race when the rain forces NASCAR to push the race to a Monday at noon. As much as it sucks, I understand it. Though I didn't get to watch the entire race, I have been active in what people say on social media, and a few things are evident.
RFK is getting hot at the right time. I know this isn't news to anybody, but the run the team is on heading into playoffs needs to be discussed. With Buescher winning the last two races, the team has made it evident that they have learned more about their car and driver as the season has progressed. Previous to the last two races, the #17 car finished in the top-5 only three times.
Brad Keselowski is loading up for playoffs as well. Though he doesn't have a win under his belt this season, he is one of the four drivers that, if the season ended today, would be in playoffs without a win. Keselowski is currently on his best run all season, finishing in the top-6 in four of the last five races. There are still three races left in the season at Indianapolis (road course), Watkins Glen, and Daytona to round off the season. Historically, Keselowski has done exceptionally well at Watkins Glen, and if he is going to win a race, it'll be at the Glen.
Next, we move on to Hendrick. While Byron and Larson have secured their spots in the playoffs, things could look better for Bowman and Elliott. While technically there is still a chance for the #48 and #9 cars to make an appearance in this year's playoffs, the team as a whole has been on a cold streak (by Hendrick standards) these last few weeks.
Larson has looked the best of the four Hendrick drivers over the last five races, finishing in the top-5 twice. Byron hasn't been himself since winning in Atlanta, finding the top-15 once since then. Elliott, when he needed points more than anybody in the field, has cracked the top-10 once in five races after going three races in a row finishing in the top-5. Finally, we might have lost all hope for Alex Bowman. Bowman had a very hot start to the season finishing in the top 10 in six of the first seven races, but since that Richmond race back in April, he has yet to crack the top 10.
It is certainly a down year for Hendrick Motorsports, but there are still three races left this season for all four teams to turn it around and get prepped and ready for playoffs.
Bubba Wallace is due. Bubba's biggest weakness is that he can't close. It seems like Wallace has run in or around the top 5 at some point in every race this season. But he can't close. If Bubba can close the deal and get a win under his belt, it will light a fire underneath him and he very well could be one of the best drivers in the Cup Series. We've seen the success his teammate Reddick has had this season. I have no reason to think Bubba can't have that same level of success.
Finally, you know I'm going to give my opinion on Stenhouse. For the first time, I will be critical of the JTG Daugherty Race Team. They have got to button things up. Mike Kelley is one of the best crew chiefs I have listened to over the scanner for a long time, and Stenhouse has the talent to go out and compete under Kelley's guidance. Based on my observation, the lack of top 5 finishes this season comes from something other than Stenhouse's driving, Tab Boyd's spotting, Mike Kelley's leadership and strategy, or even the pit crew. The team spends too much time making adjustments in the middle of the race that should have been addressed during practice and qualifying.
Perhaps this is just my ignorance speaking, this blog is called the Casual Center for a reason, but it seems like the #47 car could have finished in the top 5 more times than it has this season and won another race. Somebody that actually works in a NASCAR garage, correct me if I'm wrong. Despite my criticism, I am optimistic about the #47 team. They have done things this season that haven't been done before in JTG Daugherty's history. They could come out and shock us all.
Next up on the Cup Series schedule is the Verizon 200 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. Last year, Tyler Reddick emerged victorious after leading for 38 laps. Christopher Bell and Ryan Blaney also ran well last year despite their finish, as they each led 17 laps.
Elliott fans should be excited about this race. In the last two races at the Indy Road Course, he started in the top 10, and last year he finished fourth. This is the race of the final three that I believe Elliott has the best odds to win.