Hendrick Motorsports’ dominance over the past three weeks has been impressive, but it comes with an important caveat.
All three wins were on tracks that are not part of the playoffs.
In a season where teams switch to a new car next year and the focus on the playoff tracks has shifted, the question is, what does Hendrick’s streak mean?
The recent race is reminiscent of the team’s dominant days.
Kyle Busch, who finished third in the Coca-Cola 600, said after that race: “On a scale of one to 10 (scale), if Larson was at 10 tonight we’re down to about seven so we’ve got some work to do. to do. do. “
It’s a question of how much they have to do.
“As close as the cars are… you just gotta be a little better and look like a hero,” Travis Geisler, team competition director for the Penske team, told NBC Sports.
Todd Berrier, Technical Director at Joe Gibbs Racing, told NBC Sports: “Racing is a game of perks, and we need to work a little harder.”
But that’s the trick. How many and in what areas?
Geisler notes that the 600’s results cannot be ruled out even though the Charlotte Oval will not host a playoff race.
“That kind of speed applies to a lot of different tracks,” he said.
But will it continue on enough such tracks? Only three of the 10 playoff tracks are 1.5 mile expressways: Las Vegas, Kansas, and Texas.
There are more tracks within 1 mile or less in the playoffs: Martinsville, Richmond, Bristol and Phoenix, site of the championship race.
James Small, team manager for Martin Truex Jr., said that after Truex finished 10th in the season finale in Phoenix last year, he spent the offseason working on ways to save. be better at it.
The result was that Truex won in Phoenix this year. All three of his wins this season have come on tracks that will host playoff races – Darlington (playoff game), Martinsville (set the stage for the championship race) and Phoenix (title race).
Hendrick Motorsports drivers, meanwhile, combined to lead less than 1% of the 1,105 laps completed at Darlington, Martinsville and Phoenix this year.
Larson was second behind Truex at Darlington and Elliott was second behind Truex at Martinsville. Hendrick isn’t too far behind, but it’s obvious the organization has work to do on these tracks, which feature a lower downforce set.
Hendrick Motorsports won earlier this year in Richmond. Alex Bowman led the last 10 laps to win. Joe Gibbs Racing riders led 315 of the race’s 400 laps before finishing second, fourth, fifth and eighth. Hendrick only had one other driver in the top 10 of this race. William Byron was seventh.
Geisler de Penske said each team should be careful not to focus too narrowly on the playoff tracks, as all races earn playoff points.
“It is certain that the cumulative points count at the moment,” he said. “So you don’t want to just give that away. “
Larson has the most playoff points at 19. Truex has 18.
As good as Hendrick has been lately, there are still three months until the playoffs start. While there is no practice at most events, there is always room for others to improve during the summer.
Just like last season.
Elliott won the first 31 races twice a year ago, then three of the last five races, including the final in Phoenix, to win his first title. Kevin Harvick, who won seven of 26 races in the regular season and scored two more wins in the first round of the playoffs, failed to advance to the championship race.
“You see it a lot, the team that is the best throughout the regular season is not the team that is always the best throughout the playoffs and wins the championship,” said Larson. “I think we all know that at Hendrick Motorsports, and I think that’s why we continue to not be happy with where we are at.”
2. Help for young athletes
Three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart has often said that there is no manual to prepare a young driver for what he will experience at the highest level of the sport, especially in the face of the media. This is something some athletes would say about their sport.
The problem escalated this week when Naomi Osaka, the world’s No.2 tennis player, withdrew from Roland Garros citing mental health issues.
The 23-year-old, defending Australian Open and US Open champion, said ahead of the French Open that she would not attend press conferences during the event. She sought to avoid what she saw as a potentially unhealthy situation.
Osaka was fined $ 15,000 for skipping a media session after her first-round victory at Roland Garros. She has decided to withdraw from the tournament.
In her explanation, Osaka noted that she had suffered “long bouts of depression” since her US Open championship in 2018, and “I had a hard time coping with it. Anyone who knows me knows. that I’m an introvert, and anyone who’s seen me at tournaments will notice that I often wear headphones as it helps alleviate my social anxiety.
– NaomiOsaka 大 坂 な お み (@naomiosaka) May 31, 2021
Bubba Wallace, who has spoken openly about struggles with depression, said he understands Osaka’s feelings.
“No matter what your profession, you grow up and practice playing tennis, you grow up and you train to drive cars,” Wallace told NBC Sports. “Everything else falls into place, speaking in front of the media, speaking in front of crowds, being a public speaker. None of this is practiced. … I can totally understand what she is saying. It’s hard for anyone.
“It may become more natural for (some) people, but at the end of the day, it’s still difficult. It’s something we’re not comfortable with just because we haven’t practiced or learned it while growing up.
“It turns out, ‘Oh, by the way, you’ve got to talk to people after you’ve done your qualifying race here.’ ‘Uh, okay.’ I can see where the anxiety is building up. You say the wrong thing, people pick on you. It definitely puts you in a bad mood. You can certainly identify with all levels there. Introvert extrovert. It’s always a difficult task, I guess, to be good or just to be comfortable with.
In May 2019, Wallace gave a touching interview in which he said he was on the verge of “collapsing”.
Wallace then said of his negative mindset: “I’ll be damned if it doesn’t all go away when you get behind the wheel. Guess it’s just 16 years of driving that helps. But it’s hard. You see what you get now I’m about to crack.
Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton said on Thursday more support was needed for young athletes to cope with media burdens.
“When I was young I was thrown into the pit and got no advice or support,” Hamilton said ahead of the Azerbaijani Grand Prix on Sunday. “And what I do know is, you know, when young people come in, they’re faced with the same thing as me. And I don’t necessarily know if it’s best for them. I think we need to support more, and I think this shouldn’t be a case where you are pressured.
“For example, with Naomi’s script, she didn’t feel comfortable for her own health not to do something. And the backlash is ridiculous.
Wallace said Osaka speaking out was powerful, just as it was for Wallace when he spoke about his struggles.
“Showing your signs of what you are going through is not a sign of weakness,” Wallace told NBC Sports. “It’s actually very powerful and encourages others to speak up and be strong about how they feel. “
3. Difficult challenge
Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway (4 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the first Cup race there since 2019. That year marked the return of the teams running the carousel. The teams had the high downforce package that season. Sunday’s race will feature the low downforce package. In addition, there is no training or qualifying this weekend.
So how will Martin Truex Jr., who won Sonoma’s last two races, prepare for all of these changes?
“There’s not really much you can do,” he said. “I went for a bit of a run on the Toyota simulator (Tuesday) just to acclimatize myself to the track. Hope this has given us an idea of what the low downforce will look like. Really, that’s about all you can do. We were able to win years ago and obviously it’s a little different now. The low downforce package worked very well for us in 2017 and we felt in a position to win the race and lose an engine. We’ve got some good notes to take and everything in between. We will only have to see.
The carousel adds another challenge for drivers. The section of track descends from turn 4 to turns 5 and 6 before coming to the longest straight line of the course and the hairpin of turn 7.
“I think it’s just a really tough corner, and it doesn’t look like a corner a race car should go through,” said Cole Custer. “It’s really tight, really downhill, off camber.
“It’s just a really tough turn, and it’s something that you never go through there and feel like you did it right. It never feels natural, so it’s one of those things that you just need to kind of hit your marks and make sure you don’t overdo it.
4. The best road racers
Via Racing Insights, here is an overview of the active drivers with the best final average in road races:
9.21 – Chase Elliott
12.98 – Kevin Harvick
13.54 – Joey Logano
13.57 – Ryan Blaney
2:15 p.m. – Martin Truex Jr.
14.27 – Brad Keselowski
14.41 – Kurt Busch
14.42 – Erik Jones
3:33 p.m. – Kyle Busch
3:57 p.m. – AJ Allmendinger
15.71 – Alex Bowman
15.91 – Denny Hamlin
16.06 – Kyle Larson
16.60 – Ryan Newman
17.10 – William Byron
5. “Take the lead”
Dave Alpern, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, can add an author to his title.
“Leading the Way: Winning Business Principles That Fuel Joe Gibbs Racing” debuts on June 8.
The book isn’t limited to business principles, detailing how Alpern went from intern to executive in the company with his good friend JD Gibbs, one of Joe Gibbs’ sons. Alpern also shares stories from JD Gibbs, Joe Gibbs and others.
Alpern said he was motivated to write the book after his father died before finishing his own book. Her father was in the CIA.
“It really kind of deprived our family of this amazing story that we have never heard,” said Alpern. “So 10 years ago I told my wife, my story is not as interesting as my father’s, but I’m going to write a book because I want my boys and future generations to hear this story about Joe Gibbs Racing and how I got started as an intern and all that.
Alpern donates its profits to the JD Gibbs Legacy Fund. JD Gibbs died on January 11, 2019 following a long battle with a degenerative neurological disease. He was 49 years old.