New slate of drivers showing strength early

Richard Petty Motorsports, across the board, had an awfully good day in Atlanta last Sunday. To start with, all four of its cars finished in the top 20. Taking that one step further, three of its four cars finished in the top six.

Paul Menard not only had a good weekend, but quietly he has been having a good year so far. Actually it’s been the most solid year he has ever had in Sprint Cup racing. It’s refreshing to see new names up near the top after Sunday’s race. You had Paul in fifth and AJ Allmendinger in sixth, Scott Speed in 10th and Marcos Ambrose in 11th. You also had Regan Smith in 14th.

To me, that is very good for our sport. It’s different drivers in the top 10 or 15 that we don’t see there a lot. These guys earned those finishes. They were running strong all day long.

When a driver is in his third or fourth year, he is expected to begin delivering consistent and solid finishes. If it’s not happening by then, well, something has to give. Folks like Scott Speed and AJ Allmendinger came into NASCAR and were basically thrown into the deep end of the pool right from the start.

Year One literally, at times, is finding out how to get to the race track for the first time. Year Two brings a little more of a comfort level. The driver gets better about giving feedback to the crew chief on what the car is doing. So when you get to Year Three, well, it’s time for things to start happening. So to me, it’s great to see these guys have these great runs, especially this early in the season. Scott and Paul, in particular, have been having a really solid year so far.

So now the teams get a week off. You have to believe the Stewart-Haas group is ready for a little break. That bunch has had a very trying first four weeks of the season. Ryan Newman has actually had some pretty good runs, but he was in a wreck at Daytona. He had a blown engine in Fontana. The team had a lot of issues in Las Vegas. Then to top that all off, he had tire issues in Atlanta. So you just have to believe he is ready for an off week.

Don’t forget, this will also give teams the time to prepare for two short tracks back to back, plus be ready for the transition from the wing back to the spoiler.

Brad Keselowski was headed Sunday to a solid top-five finish but, as we know, Carl Edwards had other thoughts about that. I really didn’t expect NASCAR to do any more than it did by putting Carl on probation. You can’t tell the drivers in January to “have at it” and then lower the boom on someone for the first really serious incident of the year.

Does Brad need to find a little more balance in his racing style? Maybe. Personally, I hope he doesn’t change. We need a villain in our sport. NASCAR needs someone to wear the black hat in our sport right now. We’ve got enough vanilla guys. We need Brad Keselowski.