Coming out of the first bye week of the season, it’s hard to have a Monday go by without a race to discuss. We’ve had seven so far and we’re starting to see who is going to be around come October when the championship is being decided.
It’s easy to make early predictions based on what we’ve seen so far this year, but Chase Elliott proved that early-season dominance doesn’t mean much in the playoffs. Don’t be surprised however if a guy like Elliott who has had a slow start heats up as the season moves on. Early on, I think the most dominant car overall has been his teammate Kyle Larson, and I think he would be on most peoples radars as the early title favorite.
Larson has probably been the fastest car overall this season. In the seven races we’ve ran this year he has not finished in the top ten twice due to wrecks. Those two wrecks came while he was contending for a win at the Daytona Road Course and last week at the Dirt Race when he was climbing towards the front and seemed to be the best car early before getting caught in a wreck. So, at every race he is either contending for a win or getting a top ten.
It’s easy to assume that Larson would be the favorite, but I’m going to be honest, I don’t think he’s ready to win a championship this season. He’s shown amazing speed, but his temperament and ability to hang out at the end is still in question early on.
Put the bad luck aside, I look at races like Atlanta where he was completely dominant and wasn’t able to hold on for the win. There are mental mistakes that he’s making that you don’t see veteran contenders have. While that’s not condemning his abilities at all, it’s just an observation from watching him this year. You wonder if he can sustain this level of consistency the whole season.
The round of 8 scares me for Larson and gives me flashbacks of Harvick last season who had a bad stretch of races that cost him a shot at a championship. Texas, Kansas, and Martinsville are all tracks that Larson has had limited to no success at in the past. While this season with Hendrick will be the best equipment he’s ever taken to these races, it’s still hard to ignore his overall body of work.
So far, if you had me pick my championship four today I’m picking Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, and Brad Keselowski. I still think it’s too early and we have too many drivers that will make themselves known as contenders as the season goes on like Chase Elliott did last year.
I still think guys like Truex and Logano will actually prove to be the better picks as we get deep into the playoffs. These guys are performing on par with Larson, despite not being quite as dominant on the season overall.
The conclusion being that I don’t think Larson is the favorite to win it all this year. I think his time is coming, but he needs another year or two to shake off some of the issues we’ve seen plague him early on even in the races he has ran well at. He hasn’t done enough to separate himself from the rest of the pack like Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick did last season. To be fair though, he’s still shaking off the rust after his suspension year, so let’s see if he cleans up the mistakes as the season goes on.