Just some ramblin’ ‘bout racin’

Published 10:41 am Monday, November 20, 2017

Random thoughts as we approach the white flag lap before the checkered one waves on Sunday to end another NASCAR Cup season.

We made it through Monster Energy’s first season and the adrenalin tonic didn’t do too badly as a first-year title sponsor. Loyal readers of this column when I’ve written about racing know my penchant for the “good ol’ days” of cigarette-and-beer sponsors (Winston & Busch, to be exact), just because I think that’s your core racing fan base. I hope Monster’s not a two-and-done; but I was curious that they wanted an extension before deciding whether to commit to sponsorship beyond 2018.

Hard to believe that after Sunday, for the first time since 1979, there won’t be a full-time driver on the Cup circuit named Earnhardt once Dale Jr. makes that left turn into the garage for the final time. Junior’s been the face of this sport ever since his Dad’s untimely demise, evidenced by his being named “Most Popular Driver” since 2003. It’s going to be strange watching a race next year without him or his late father or any of the Petty’s. We’ve never really had a season like that, at least since King Richard boycotted half of the 1965 season.

Sunday’s the last time we will say “this is the last time Dale Earnhardt Jr. …” Let that sink in.

Two of my favorites aren’t in the Final Four for the Cup Championship: Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. At age 42, some are saying Johnson appears to be fading. Granted, he hasn’t won since June and remains tied with Cale Yarborough with 83 career wins, which is sixth-most all-time. This was the seven-time champ’s worst year since ‘02 when he won just three races – same as this year – or, maybe 2011 when he won just two. At least that year he had 15 top-fives. This year, only two; arguably his worst season ever.

As for Kenseth, he’s 45 and I think he deserves better than what he got. He’s still a winner, and he proved it. Again. Kenseth took his first Cup race win in over a year at Phoenix last Sunday, days after admitting that he’s run out of options for 2018.The fact that he can’t get a top-notch ride next year is a real shame.

That leaves just one driver to pull for Sunday: “The Closer”. Kevin Harvick is quietly surging at the end of the year. He won Texas a couple of weeks ago and he’s posted 13 top-five finishes. But – and this is why I’m not a great fan of the new championship format – he hasn’t led but 850 laps all year, the fewest since he joined Stewart-Haas three years ago. However, that was also the last year Harvick won the title, and in case you’ve forgotten, he did it by winning the season-ending race at Homestead.

Look out field, Harvick won’t be out to make many friends come Sunday. He’ll be driving hard, and I bet if he’s close, he’ll probably win.

Can you believe there are no Chevrolets racing for the Cup championship this week? Yep, just two Fords and two Toyotas. The Xfinity Series finalists are all Chevys (three from JR Motorsports) and the trucks are two Toyotas, a Ford and a Chevy. Life for the rides with the ‘bow-tie’ on the hood’s just not what it used to be.

Finally, could anyone in racing have had worse ‘buzzard’s luck’ than Chase Elliott? If so, I don’t know who it is. Seven second-place finishes without a win is a record. You heard it here: watch this kid in 2019.

Something I do too often, but can’t seem to get right lately is make picks, but I’m going to do it now……I’ll see you in Vegas picking up the big check, Martin Truex.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.