First off, I hope everyone had a great holiday this week and was able to spend some quality and fun times with friends and family.
I don’t usually write about individual races, but this past weekend the July 4th fireworks came a few days early at Chicagoland Speedway thanks to a gut wrenching finish between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson. Just last week, I talked in this space about how drivers outside of the top 3 – Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – could rise to victory at any time. Although that didn’t quite come to fruition in the last race, Larson came about as close as you can without actually accomplishing this feat.
It was perhaps the most exciting finish of the season as Larson closed in on Busch over the final 15 laps. As the two played a game of cat and mouse, the anticipation started to escalate that the winner would be determined in the final laps. Larson finally ran down Busch with one lap to go, but unable to clear one another, the two drivers exchanged contact to each other’s bumper, sending the crowd into an uproar before Busch finally found himself in Victory Lane for the fifth time this season.
I can recall being at the 2016 Daytona 500, when Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. came to the finish line side by side, where Hamlin narrowly edged out Truex by 0.010 seconds for the victory. Although this past weekend wasn’t quite the same stage as the Daytona 500, it did have all of the bumping and maneuvering that the 2016 Daytona finish did not offer. Immediately, on television and social channels, the debate kicked into high gear about whether it was one of the greatest finishes of all time.
There’s nothing more thrilling in auto sports than a race coming down to the last lap and the excitement that a last lap can provide is unparalleled to the rest of the sport. That was evident in Chicagoland this past weekend as you could see the crowd anticipating Larson’s move as they rose to their feet. As the two drivers made contact multiple times, the excitement kept growing, right up until Busch finally held off Larson for the win. Moments like this keep me on the edge of my seat throughout the entirety of a race, because after 400 miles the race could come down to the final straightaway.
The race at Chicagoland was also a reminder of the importance of winning in NASCAR. Just like in any other sport, the athlete’s main goal in auto racing is to defeat whoever they’re matched up against regardless of who the opponent is or how big or small the circumstance is for that race. In NASCAR, the stakes of a victory at this point of the season are higher than in any other sport. A regular season win secures a driver a spot in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
This creates a sense of urgency for drivers throughout the field, knowing that as each race passes, one less opportunity remains to secure one of the 16 automatic spots in the playoffs.
Although there is still the possibility to make the playoffs based on points, drivers want to get that first win out of the way early and know they are already locked into the playoff picture at the end on the year.
For a driver like Larson, who has yet to win a race in 2018, the will to win intensifies as the playoffs get closer and closer. He is likely to have a spot in the Round of 16 based off points standings, but Larson would undoubtedly like to get back to his winning ways of 2017, when he took home the checkered flag four times and made it to the Round of 12 in the playoffs.
The pressure to win is building for Larson, who at this early stage of his career is all too familiar with finishing runner-up. Last season, he led the Cup series with eight second place finishes, and is on pace to lead the series again in 2018, having already finished four races in second.
For Kyle Busch, another win this season has to do with more than the 2018 playoffs. Known as one the most fiery personalities in the sport, Busch has used that passion to fuel 48 career victories, second-most among active drivers behind Jimmie Johnson. As Busch aims to build his legacy, he knows the importance of each race win and what a remarkable feat it is to find Victory Lane so many times.
Although Larson and Busch were seeking wins for different reasons, their common desire to win led to some of this season’s best racing. They put on a spectacular show for the fans, and it was a treat to see two of the sport’s best competitors battle it out down the stretch.
Whether it’s to secure a spot in the playoffs, add to a driver’s legacy or win on the sport’s biggest stages, there are many circumstances that feed a driver’s hunger to win and lead to exhilarating races in NASCAR. With each week having such high stakes for the drivers, there’s an
unpredictability to NASCAR that keeps us fans on the edge of our seats, because whether it’s the Daytona 500, a mid-season race in Chicagoland or even the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship here at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the sport is capable of producing breathtaking moments each week.
As the season moves on just a few hours up the coast to Daytona this weekend, let’s hope we can see a finish half as good as the one we saw last week at Chicagoland, and keep the momentum rolling as we hit the halfway mark of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
NASCAR ACTION THIS WEEKEND
Saturday, July 7 at
7:00 PM (ET)
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway
Tune In: NBCSN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90
Friday, July 6 at
7:30 PM (ET)
NASCAR XFINITY Series Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway
Tune In: NBCSN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90
The NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series is off this weekend and will return the following week at Kentucky Speedway.
UPCOMING EVENTS AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY
July 7-8 Championship Cup Series (CCS)
Chin Motorsports Car Club
Miami Exotic Auto Racing
July 22 Performance Driving Group
July28-29 Rusty Wallace Racing Experience
2018 HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY NASCAR DATES
Ford EcoBoost 200 Camping World Truck Series Championship Race
Ford EcoBoost 300 XFINITY Series Championship Race
Ford EcoBoost 400 Monster Energy Series Championship Race