5 takeaways from Talladega and looking ahead to Dover

Ryan Blaney Runner-Up Again

Ryan Blaney has to be wondering if he’ll ever win a points paying race again. He said as much following his fourth runner-up finish in his last 56 races on Sunday afternoon at Talladega. Blaney led the most laps (47) and was in control of the field in the end. His best friend, Bubba Wallace, was the only car in front of him as the duo took the white flag in the GEICO 500. More times than not, the control car (Wallace) is in a lame duck scenario at that point. Would Wallace cut Blaney a break and delay an inevitable of getting drafted by and passed?

He didn’t. He blocked three maneuvers by Blaney to get by and it cost both of them the race win. Kyle Busch snuck by both and Blaney had to settle for second…again.

He last won in the 2021 regular season finale at Daytona. 56 races ago. To be second four times in that span since including 17 Top-5 finishes and 28 Top-10’s is frustrating the Team Penske driver.

The problem now is, he doesn’t have some good tracks for him coming up to end this long skid either.

Blaney has 0 Top-5 finishes and just two Top-10’s in 12 career Dover starts. His last seven Dover starts have seen him finish 12th or worse.

Then it’s to Kansas. Blaney has finished 20th or worse in five of his last eight Kansas starts including being 12th and ninth a year ago.

Next up it’s to Darlington. He has just one Top-10 finish in 12 tries there. He was 17th and 13th respectively last year.

Then to close out the Month of May is the annual Coca-Cola 600. Blaney was third in both races in 2020, but those are his only Top-5 finishes in 12 Charlotte oval starts. The last two years he was 13th and 29th respectively. Blaney has led eight total laps too including two laps each in four of the last five oval races.

Kyle Larson’s Car Taken Back To The R&D Center

Kyle Larson’s car was loaded up and taken back with NASCAR to their R&D Center in Concord. This time, Hendrick Motorsports doesn’t need to fear further penalty. NASCAR wants to dissect his No. 5 Chevrolet after a frightening crash at the end of Sunday’s race in Talladega for which Larson’s car was t-boned by Ryan Preece in the passenger side door.

The interior was badly damaged as a result and due to that, NASCAR wants to take a further look and determine if they need to make any adjustments in regards to safety to this car.

Kyle Busch Thriving With RCR

Kyle Busch became the third driver with multiple victories this season when he took his No. 8 Chevrolet to victory lane Sunday in Talladega. The pairing of he and RCR are already paying off in bigger ways than probably initially expected.

12 years ago, Richard Childress minced the words “hold my watch” as he went after Busch at the Kansas Speedway following a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. Now, that watch was part of a signing bonus to lure Busch over to Richard Childress Racing.

Last Fall, Childress made one of the biggest signings of Richard Childress Racing history by signing one of NASCAR’s most decorated drivers in the 21st century.

RCR had successfully landed Busch to drive one of their cars for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. Busch, 37, and Joey Logano, are the only active drivers in the garage to have won multiple Cup Series championships.

“The addition of Kyle Busch to the Richard Childress Racing lineup is significant, not only for our organization, but for the sport as a whole,” said Richard Childress, Chairman and CEO of Richard Childress Racing on the day of the signing. “Kyle is a proven contender at the highest levels of the sport, and I believe that his experience and dedication to motorsports will elevate our race program across the board. I’ve always admired Kyle’s driving style and his ability to win and race for championships ever since he entered the sport. Who wouldn’t want a proven NASCAR Cup Series Champion driving their car?”

Busch’s impact is already paying dividends. He finished second in the Busch Light Clash. He passed Brad Keselowski for the lead with five laps remaining in regulation of the Daytona 500. If the race doesn’t have an overtime finish, Busch wins. A week later, in Fontana, in just the second points paying race while driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR, Busch was victorious. Now, in Week 9, he’s back in victory lane.

“I think it’s just phenomenal. I can’t thank Richard and Judy enough. I can’t thank Austin for calling me and getting me talking and getting me this opportunity to be able to come over here to RCR and be a part of Chevrolet.

“There’s nothing more rewarding than being able to go to Victory Lane.”

Still, this is truthfully ahead of the curve. Busch honestly didn’t see this amount of success coming so quickly.

“Truthfully, no,” he said if he thought he’d challenge for this so soon. “I felt like there was going to be a little bit of a learning experience, a little bit of a growth pattern.”

How many more is on the table?

Sky could be the limit here.

2022 was the most wins (4) in a single season for RCR since Kevin Harvick won 4 times for them in 2013. It’s a long way from being winless in 2021 and having 1 win in 2020. In fact, from 2014 through 2021, they were winless in 6 of those 8 seasons. They had 1 win in the other 2 years each. This time, they had 4 trips to victory lane and 3 of the 4 were at iconic tracks in Indianapolis, Daytona and Talladega.

While all 4 wins were on “wild card” type tracks, with a pair of road course wins and two on superspeedways, it still is signaling that RCR is trending up. Even if both of the 2023 wins are on wildcard type tracks (Fontana, Talladega).

Childress has seen more drivers leave him than come. Kevin Harvick left for SHR. Reddick left for 23XI Racing. Childress had to go the route of hire pay drivers or his grandson. To land someone like Busch is a massive win.

Busch expects to race for at least another decade and while Reddick is much younger and has a longer road ahead, this feels like a big splash for RCR as they’re entering an upward trend again. While they have no championships since 1994, you just get the feeling that Busch can bring them one back before his days are over.

“When I first crossed the finish line, I thought about Richard and Judy and the chance that they’ve taken on putting me in their race car and letting me go out there and drive,” he says.

“It’s just been super, super rewarding so far each week, even though we haven’t won, to just be a part of the conversation and be in the mix.

“I hope that we’re able to repay them a lot over this year and the next few years to come before I decide it’s all said and done.

“But just great conversation with him. He was like, man, this is the first of many, and I think one of the other things he said was — he showed me his hat, his Chevy hat that he has in Victory Lane each year. Whenever they win races they always put the track and the driver signature of where the wins were. Hopefully we get to fill that thing up. It’s always on the inside, so hopefully we get to fill that thing up.”

Random Winners This Year

Kyle Busch had 1 career win at Talladega. His last superspeedway win came back in 2008. He picked up a win on Sunday. That comes a week after Kyle Larson scored his first career win at Martinsville for which was a track that he dreaded going to. Larson entered the weekend with just two Top-5 finishes in his last 11 Martinsville tries including 11 of his 16 tries there seeing him finish outside the Top-15 at that.  Larson had also won two weeks prior at Richmond giving Hendrick Motorsports their second win in their last 28 Richmond starts (since 2008). Larson had just one Top-5 finish in his last eight Richmond starts entering that weekend.

William Byron won back-to-back weeks in March at Vegas and Phoenix. In 20 combined starts at both tracks entering this season, he had just one Top-5 finish including 0-for-10 at Phoenix.

Joey Logano was 0-for-18 at Atlanta before his maiden win back in March. His last Top-5 finish there prior to his win was back in 2015.

That’s six of the last eight race winners having no rhyme or reason for their victories. There’s no metric or stat or anything to base these winners off of prior to that said race weekend. None. If anyone tells you otherwise, run, they’re lying.

To be fair, Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s win at Daytona wasn’t as random as it seemed, Busch’s win in Fontana wasn’t unexpected while Tyler Reddick’s win in COTA and Christopher Bell’s on Bristol Dirt were on par.

The thing is, if something late doesn’t happen, we have vastly different winners this year too.

Kyle Busch had the Daytona 500 won which would have made his Talladega win less flukey.

Kyle Larson had Vegas won before a late caution.

Kevin Harvick had Phoenix won before a late caution.

Martin Truex Jr. had Richmond won before a late caution.

That’s just the random nature of these races this season. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

A Look Ahead – Watch Out For Hendrick In Dover

It’s no secret, Hendrick Motorsports has bar none been the top team in the sport this season. Now, they’re heading to one of their best tracks at the Dover Motor Speedway. Are they untouchable this weekend?

They went 1-2-3-4 in 2021 and 1-5-6 last year. They’ve also won all three races on tracks 1-mile or less this season with William Byron winning in Phoenix and Kyle Larson at Richmond and Martinsville. HMS also led 94 of 400 laps in their win a year ago while leading 382 of 400 laps (95.5%) in ’21.

Kyle Larson

Just look at what he’s done at this track with Ganassi (3 straight top 3’s), then see a runner-up in 2021 (263 laps led) and sixth last year (19 laps led) with Hendrick Motorsports on the Monster Mile. He also has 11 top 10’s in his last 13 starts there including 7 of them being in the top five.

William Byron

He’s finished fourth place in two of his last three Dover starts and has been stout on short tracks this season as well.

Chase Elliott

He’s scored five Top-5 finishes in his last seven Dover starts including a win last year.

Alex Bowman

A Top-3 finish in both races in 2019 to go along with a fifth place run in race 2 of 2020, a win in 2021 and a fifth place run again last year gives him five Top-5 finishes on the Monster Mile in his last six tries there.

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