The Dixie Vodka 400 had concluded to clamorous positive praise from fans over the race and results. While the “best season ever,” plot that FOX keeps pushing is cheesy and has gotten old, but so far it has certainly lived up to the hype as much as possible. Three different unpredictable winners in at least two great races, discounting the Daytona 500 which only had a great finish.
The race overall had everything you could want out of it with multiple cars in contention for the win and the track offering us multiple changes to the race as it went on.
With such a smooth race, it’s hard to believe there were that many storylines to come from it, but we had a few guys whose days deserve to be looked at; rather that be for good or bad reasons.
William Byron and Rudy Fugle Strike Gold Quickly
Back in 2016, William Byron was lighting up the Truck series with seven wins and was quickly making it known he was the next big NASCAR prospect. The man by his side in this mass takeover was Rudy Fugle.
I’ve made a lot of comments about William Byron’s development in the past and how I believe it was fast-forwarded a detrimental amount. He was brought into the Cup series at just 20-years old, and his stats up until now would reflect that he wasn’t ready for the heavy toll that Cup racing takes on young drivers.
Hendrick has made desperate attempts to make adjustments to Byron’s development like switching legendary crew chief Chad Knaus to his team. Unfortunately, it was clearly not a great fit. This season, the energy around Byron and that team seemed better, even before Sunday’s win. William Byron seems to have the confidence in himself and his crew chief to be able to continue this momentum, and we might see the 24 in victory lane again soon.
Michael McDowell’s Emergence
Two weeks ago I called his Daytona 500 win a fluke, and he’s working hard to make everyone who said that eat those words. We have a small sample size, but three top tens in three races are impressive for McDowell and that team. I’m very happy for them, but not ready to jump on the bandwagon yet.
There isn’t anything to suggest that Front Row Motorsports was taking a major leap to this magnitude and while McDowell is hitting his prime age, he has barely been a top twenty driver his whole career. Convincing me that he will all of a sudden be a consistent top ten guy will be a hard sell. I’m all here for it if it’s true though.
I’m being pessimistic, but it’s at least good to know that McDowell and FRM are making strides in the right direction even if their results start to level out as the season goes on.
Bad Luck Blaney
Ryan Blaney has always been the butt of a lot of jokes when it comes to drivers who can’t seem to catch a break. Blaney is at an important point in his career. He’s young watching other young guys win multiple races a year and win championships. He so far has not taken that next step from two seasons ago when he started at Penske.
Sunday he sported another mediocre run that ended in disaster that was not any fault of his own. Aric Almirola lost control of his car and ran up into Blaney, taking him all but out of the race.
Ryan Blaney has shown speed, he’s shown that he can lead races consistently, the problem is he doesn’t stay there. This year has to be the year he wins multiple races and makes a deep playoff run. Winning one race a year and getting bounced out of the round of twelve when your teammates are competing for championships will not cut it. Chalking it up to bad luck or a lack of practice is not an excuse anymore.
Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing’s Struggling
All of the hype in NASCAR this offseason surrounded Michael Jordan and his integration into NASCAR. With Jordan’s wealth and Denny Hamlin’s resources, it seemed like this team was all but sure to compete. It all would come down to the driver.
Bubba Wallace is a polarizing figure in NASCAR who draws a lot of unwarranted hate. He ran great in the 500 before a pit crew folly took him a lap down and he’s never been a great road course racer. So, this race at Homestead was supposed to be the first big test. He did not live up to expectations.
I have no idea if it is just a new team forming, or if Wallace is off to a rough start or both. Either way, as a diehard Hornets fan, I know for a fact MJ doesn’t deal with mediocrity for long before making changes. Wallace’s career at 1.5-mile tracks is up and down, but it was assumed it was due to being in poor equipment.
Scoring outside the top 20 will not cut it. Not just for MJ, but for what fans expect out of him. He has brought a lot of new support to NASCAR, but this will not stick if he doesn’t perform. Not only that, but the hate will only grow worse if he doesn’t perform. He will always have hate, but it’s always better to be hated while riding in the top ten.