Opinion: Balance of power has shifted from JGR to Logano, Team Penske
All but lost in the Nine Circles of Hell called the finish of the CampingWorld.com 500 is the fact that the balance of power has shifted in NASCAR in the last month, and shifted in a big way.
Yes, the finish at Talladega Superspeedway was an utter flustercluck, the likes of which will have angry race faces arguing over the water coolers at work all week. To wit:
Was there actually one green-white-checkered restart or were there two?
Was Dale Earnhardt Jr. robbed because the caution flag came out too late on the final restart?
Did Kevin Harvick intentionally bring out a yellow to stay alive in the Chase by wrecking the field?
Should Stewart-Haas Racing be penalized for their inspection issues on Saturday?
Yeah, people are going to be talking about this bizarre afternoon for a long, long time.
Regardless of how you feel or I feel or how the drivers feel, though, there will be 43 cars lined up again at Martinsville Speedway next week. And when they do, who’s the boss has changed.
From the Sonoma road course race in mid-June through the second Chase race, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas won 10 of 13 races, earning Chase spots for all four of the team’s drivers.
JGR hasn’t won since, and the team’s two drivers who won Chase races already — Denny Hamlin at Chicagoland Speedway and Matt Kenseth at New Hampshire — are out of the Chase following Talladega.
And this is the first time since the first five races of the season that Toyota has gone four races in a row without a victory. Did they peak too soon?
In the meantime, Harvick won at Dover and Logano swept all three races in the Contender Round of the Chase. Recall that Harvick was on the verge of elimination before winning the elimination race at the Monster Mile. And recall also, he won the final two races of the Chase last year, which were also both elimination races. Had he not won at Phoenix and Homestead, he wouldn’t have taken the title.
Logano, meanwhile, is red-hot, with three victories in a row. And that’s impressed team boss Roger Penske, who’s seen an awful lot in his long career.
"I think if we sat down prior to this round and said someone would win all three they would have said you were crazy," Penske said after the race. "…We had our best game on for the last three races and we have proved it with the success we’ve had. We have been in this position before and we know how tough it is to stay on top."
With four races left in the season, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Logano or Harvick winning it all. Both made the Championship Round last year, which Harvick, of course, won.
And yet … there are still a lot of nagging questions left over the upcoming final four races.
Will a still-ticked off Kenseth retaliate against Logano at Martinsville next week and maybe again afterwards?
Will Harvick run into trouble? He’s finished 14th or worse in four of the six Chase races. He looks a lot more vulnerable than he did in the first half of the season.
Can Jeff Gordon make a storybook run and finish his career with a fifth and final championship?
Both Busch brothers are still alive. Could this be the year for one of them?
Are there any of the other drivers capable of making a title run?
We’ll know the answers to these questions in another four weeks.
But I’d bet this for sure: The hard feelings and hard racing aren’t over yet. Whether you love what happened at Talladega or hated it — and judging from social media, a lot more people hated it — the drama is a long way from over.