Hammond: It’s time to get back to some real racing

A lot of people have said that after these first five races, we’re going to have a much clearer understanding of what 2017 is all about. And I’ve got news for you: I think I’m more confused now then when they dropped the green flag at Daytona.

After we ran these first five races, drivers that we thought were going to be good, well, they’re really not that good.

And some guys that you didn’t expect to be that good are turning your heads.

What Chip Ganassi has done is like, “Wow, where did they come from?” Because it’s not just the No. 42 of Kyle Larson, it’s the No. 1 of Jamie McMurray, too. They’re running stride for stride, week in and week out, having fast race cars, competing to win and lead laps.

It’s pretty phenomenal now that Larson is officially the points leader after five races. It’s been kind of head scratching.

The other head scratching is we didn’t expect Stewart-Haas to come out like they did, yet Kurt Busch did get that win in the Daytona 500. And then we go to Atlanta and Kevin Harvick just totally dominates the field, but then can’t close the deal.

Yet he then struggles at Phoenix where he’s won eight races. Go figure that.

My point is, the expected is not the expected.

It has turned out to be the unexpected.

Whereas the unexpected has become the norm.

So I’m glad we’re done with the West Coast Swing. Because maybe we’ll get back to some real racing. And when I say that, I mean where we’re not really blaming the aero package or the track condition.

Martinsville? That’s real racing.

Bristol? That’s real racing.

Richmond? That’s real racing.

It’s short-track racing. Handling is more of a premium, taking care of your brakes is more of a premium. Being able to beat and bang a little bit is kind of like the norm.

Yeah, we got Texas stuck in there, along with a thing called Talladega, but those aren’t necessarily benchmark races, at least not for me.

So I’m really excited to see what’s going to happen at Martinsville.

Can we see Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus get back in their groove at a place where they’ve been so good as of late?

Or will it wind up being Joey Logano who figures this thing out?

Or could it be someone like Matt Kenseth?

There are so many great drivers that can run well at a place like Martinsville that you don’t know what’s going to happen.

You don’t know. Martinsville should be something that we’re able to hang our hats on and be predictable, with the exception of the stages we have now.

The stages are going to challenge the crew chiefs, as well as the engineers as far as where and how you need to be to put yourself in the best position to make a run for the win.

During the stage cautions, we know we’re going to get an opportunity to cool our brakes down. This is one of those times when we’re really going to get an opportunity to work on the race car. And it’s a predictable distance in.

So you’ve got two really big swings at it during the course of the race that a lot of times didn’t exist at a place like Martinsville. And it could be a game changer. It has been so far this year.

And I think Martinsville will be no different.

But, man, at least this weekend it’ll be real racing.