A Snowball Headed for Hell

Kyle Busch leads a Pocono pack. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, July 30, 2018, 2:42 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

With every week that passes, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season settles in place. Its concrete hardens. Change becomes more unlikely. The story remains the same.

The Chevrolet Camaro is probably not going to win many races this year. It won right out of the box with Austin Dillon’s victory in the Daytona 500. Twenty fruitless attempts have followed. Surely a Camaro, one driven by Kyle Larson, or Chase Elliott, or someone else will win during the final 15 races of the season.

It is likely, and gets likelier with each passing week, that when the playoffs (I hate that term and wish they were called race-offs) begin, nine races will be run to benefit one driver to join three others – Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – to settle the championship.

Busch celebrates. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

The prospect is not without its appeal, particularly for fans who adore either Busch, Harvick or Truex. Surely their ranks have swelled. Busch is clever. Harvick is canny. Truex is a hell of a guy.

Nixing the designation of the final 10 races as the Chase proved fitting and timely. It’s not going to be much of a chase. It’s not going to be wild. It’s not going to be crazy. It’s going to be appropriate. It’s going to reflect the course of the whole season, one which three men have utterly dominated. They have combined to win 16 races. Another, Clint Bowyer, has won two. Three others – Dillon, Joey Logano and Erik Jones – have combined to win … three.

Other cars, mostly Toyotas and Fords, are fast in fits and starts. Chevrolets are fast in bits and snatches. It seems as if Jimmie Johnson has spent the entire season in seventh place.

Fans who have said all season long that they wouldn’t be surprised if Brad Keselowski, or Denny Hamlin, or Larson, or Elliott, won, would now be surprised.

Busch celebrates some more. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Three drivers have cornered the market. It is fleeting and won’t last forever, but it’s likely going to last until at least the end of the year. Any victory by anyone other than Busch, Harvick or Truex is going to be an upset. If Johnson wins a race, I wonder if Rick Allen will say of a seven-time champion, “David beats Goliath!”

This is where NASCAR is.

Three recent races have been great. The Big Three deserve their status. They are both fast and efficient. One reason for their status is that others who rival them in speed do not rival them in cohesion. It’s not just the drivers. The crew chiefs – Adam Stevens with Busch, Rodney Childers with Harvick and Cole Pearn with Truex – are cool and efficient. The teams have no monopoly, but that’s what it looks like.

The excellence deserves celebration, but from the aerial shots of the grandstands, from TV numbers still getting tinier, and from other observations both scientific and personal, that’s not what it’s getting.

NASCAR is flunking both the multiple-choice and the essay exams, so it grades itself on a curve and keeps taking strikes.

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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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