Column: NASCAR has six winners in six races this 12 months. There’s a motive for the parity


HAMPTON, Ga. — Ryan Blaney turned the sixth totally different winner in as many races this NASCAR season when he took the checkered flag at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday. When reminded of this reality, he cracked a smile.

“Joyful I’m one among ‘em!” Blaney stated. “We acquired to 5 and I used to be like, ‘Whew. We’re stacking ‘em up fairly fast. I feel we have to win one right here.’”

A late-lap move of Kyle Larson — as Larson’s lead light along with his tires — despatched Blaney to Victory Lane for his fifth win within the Cup Collection, permitting Blaney to breathe a sigh of aid, for now, together with 5 different race winners: Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell, William Byron, Larson and Martin Truex Jr.

Staff Penske proprietor Roger Penske on Zoom Monday referred to as Blaney’s win “so vital” to boosting his group’s momentum.

“To see Ryan be capable to carry it house was terrific,” Penske stated. “I feel he wanted that. He’d received plate races, however had by no means received on a mile or a mile and a half, the place he’d should grind it out with these guys.”

“I feel this was an amazing win for him and (offers) loads of confidence. I feel we’ll see loads of him this 12 months,” Penske added.

Sunday’s race didn’t play out as others have thus far this season. Larson led a majority of the laps (83%) and was amongst simply six drivers who held the lead all afternoon. The 12 lead adjustments at Atlanta had been a far cry from the 20 lead adjustments at Homestead, the 27 at Las Vegas and 23 at Phoenix, the opposite intermediate races accomplished thus far this 12 months.

Blaney and his No. 12 Ford crew raced a clear occasion, posting quick pit stops and hovering in second place within the last stage till snaking the lead with fewer than 10 laps remaining, a pattern in all of Blaney’s wins within the collection. His victory didn’t come from out of left discipline, nonetheless. He completed fifth at Las Vegas, the final 1.5-mile monitor utilizing the identical guidelines bundle, and fourth at Atlanta final season. Nonetheless, the outcome was one other recent face taking the checkered flag early within the season.

“It simply reveals how many individuals can win on this collection, on this sport,” Blaney stated. “You have got totally different winners from totally different organizations. I feel that simply reveals how aggressive it’s.”

“I really feel like everyone seems to be doing an amazing job of determining methods to work with their crew chiefs and drivers and groups,” he stated.

In 2014, the primary 12 months NASCAR applied its 16-driver playoff format, seven totally different winners opened the season, however there have by no means been extra profitable drivers than the allotted spots with the format. This may very well be the primary 12 months, due to the trending parity throughout the sphere and newness of the 2021 schedule. The regular-season champion is assured a spot within the playoffs, even with out a win, and if there are extra winners than playoff spots, these spots can be stuffed primarily based on factors in the course of the common season.

Blaney’s No. 12 crew chief Todd Gordon described how NASCAR’s technical inspection has modified this 12 months to create a extra evenly aggressive discipline, whereas groups beforehand had been capable of “work across the optical scanner” to create extra downforce.

“(NASCAR) tried to reel a few of that creativity again in, made some templates that may handle areas that they felt like we had been dropping management of,” Gordon stated. “(NASCAR) made it very clear within the offseason this was going to occur and all of us knew it.”

Gordon stated that the outcome has been much less downforce to create higher racing, utilizing Atlanta for instance the place groups had been “sliding round.” It has additionally leveled the competitors, Gordon stated. The trade’s preparation for the NextGen automobile rolling out subsequent 12 months, in addition to restricted monitor time for follow and qualifying in the course of the pandemic, are additionally probably components contributing to the extra even enjoying discipline this 12 months.

Penske stated that groups haven’t seen the “creeping magnificence” and important adjustments in engineering this 12 months, and like Gordon, famous that the storage space is being managed “a lot tighter.”

“Which fairly truthfully is sweet for everyone,” Penske stated. “It’s a stage enjoying discipline. And for me, it’s the identical for us as it’s for anyone else. I’m comfy with what’s occurring clearly. I can say that now that we’ve got a race.”

When mixed with the 2021 schedule, which incorporates a number of new tracks and codecs, these adjustments ought to make for an fascinating fall season of racing.

For instance, whereas Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell are anticipated to command the Bristol dust race subsequent weekend, may Cup rookie Chase Briscoe be the following shock win? His No. 14 crew and the Stewart-Haas group have missed it on the intermediate tracks thus far, however with the solely new aspect and Briscoe’s dust expertise, he may very well be the following first-time Cup winner after McDowell and Bell within the first two races.

“I’m able to go dust racing subsequent week,” Briscoe tweeted Sunday after ending twenty third at Atlanta.

Different drivers like Chris Buescher, Daniel Suárez and Matt DiBenedetto confirmed velocity over the weekend and proved that they may very well be components this season, along with Bubba Wallace probably making a cost at a superspeedway. These “shock” wins wouldn’t essentially negate wins by the perennial contenders both. Penske stated he plans to have a productive dialog with drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski relating to their run-in on the Daytona 500 that knocked each groups from the lead on the final lap of the race, and the best way to method the following superspeedway race at Talladega.

“These issues occur,” Penske stated. “Typically they occur for one of the best. It wasn’t the result we needed however I feel it brings that kind of topic to the floor and we cope with it professionally.”

Talladega follows the Bristol dust race this weekend, the place Penske didn’t categorical as a lot confidence primarily based on his groups’ restricted dust expertise. Nonetheless, the proprietor stated he feels “good the place we’re.”

Different groups, equivalent to Hendrick Motosports, ought to have early confidence primarily based on the velocity they’ve proven with Larson. Hendrick driver Chase Elliott additionally has six extra races to win on a street course, and Alex Bowman completed third at Atlanta. These drivers are more likely to win not less than one race of the following 20 earlier than the playoffs.

Denny Hamlin, Logano, Keselowski and Kevin Harvick all rank within the top-10 in factors and will additionally seemingly win any weekend, in addition to Kurt and Kyle Busch. It’s onerous to think about at this level that any of these drivers received’t win a race earlier than September, however after six totally different winners opened the season in a 12 months with a revamped schedule, the query as an alternative turns into can they win a number of races, and can they should.

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