The Trifecta is my weekly edition of post-race thoughts and observations. I’ve been doing this after every race already, but now it just has a fancy title.
Moving forward I will discuss what, I believe, are the top three takeaways from the most recent Cup race. So without further ado, let’s get started with The Trifecta…Michigan edition.
Win – Clint Bowyer Notches Second Win of 2018
Clint Bowyer easily had a top-five car, but not a winning car. That belonged to his Stewart-Haas teammate Kevin Harvick. Surprise surprise. But crew chief Mike Bugarewicz made a great call to give Bowyer just two tires on his last pit stop. It gave his driver the lead on the restart and Bowyer was fantastic in holding off Harvick before the caution for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Then the No. 14 team got some luck when the skies opened up and Bowyer was declared the winner shortly thereafter.
So after going more than five years without a win, Bowyer now has two in the last ten races. I’m not ready to call him a championship contender yet, but he’s on the short list of those who I think can make the championship four at Homestead. Let’s assume Harvick and Kyle Busch are locks because…they are. Martin Truex Jr. is a strong favorite as well, leaving just one spot available for the following drivers: Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Denny Hamlin. I would be very surprised if someone outside of that group did not make it. Bowyer needs to show more consistency to be a serious threat for the title, but he has the speed to stay in the mix all the way to the finale.
Place – The Ford Dominance Continues
Speaking of speed, the Fords have it and don’t appear to be giving it up anytime soon. Ford took seven of the top eight spots at Michigan and eight of the top eleven. Stewart-Haas ran first, second, third, and eleventh. Team Penske finished sixth through eighth and Paul Menard came home fifth for the Wood Brothers, a satellite operation to Penske.
The top Ford teams are all performing at a high level right now. Whatever lobbying Brad Keselowski did at the end of last season is paying off. It’s hard to say if Keselowski’s words had any influence, but you certainly don’t hear him complaining now….at least not about Ford.
Show – Hendrick Motorsports Remains a Non-Factor
Just to review, Chevy placed two drivers in the top ten at Michigan (Chase Elliott – ninth, Jamie McMurray – tenth). Chevy drivers led 12 of 133 total laps, 11 by Kasey Kahne. By and large, the Chevy clan was never a factor Sunday.
Meanwhile, Kyle Larson made some interesting comments leading into the Michigan race regarding the performance of Chevy this season.
“I have never felt like Chevys have been at a disadvantage this year. Our team has been pretty solid every race. I think some of the teams maybe just use it as an excuse where we don’t do that,” said Larson.
“So, yeah, I mean obviously I don’t think we are as fast as what we were at this point last year, but I don’t think we are that far off either. Honestly, I think maybe we are kind of where we were at last year, just other teams are a little bit better.”
Larson has been the best Chevy driver this season, by far. So if anyone is going to speak in defense of Chevy, it’s Larson. But I was still surprised he said it publicly. This plays right into something I hypothesized a couple of weeks ago. I won’t make you search for it. See below:
It’s obvious the Chevy teams are playing catch-up to Ford and Toyota. But is it possible that narrative is a bit overplayed?
Hear me out. The Hendrick Motorsports stable now consists of seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson and three drivers who haven’t won a race. Chase Elliott has been close, but Bowman and Byron are just fighting to make the playoffs, let alone win a race. And Johnson hasn’t won in more than a year. The last Hendrick win was Kasey Kahne at Indianapolis last year. And if we’re being honest, it was somewhat of a fluke win.
Hendrick is the clear flag bearer for Chevy. Behind Hendrick, it’s Chip Ganassi Racing and Richard Childress Racing. Aside from Kyle Larson, Ganassi and RCR haven’t provided any firepower since Austin Dillon’s Daytona 500 win.
My point is when Hendrick is down, Chevy is down. I don’t think the Hendrick team has lost its mojo, but it’s definitely in a transition phase.
Which begs the question…does Hendrick Motorsports have a Chevy problem? Or does Chevy have a Hendrick problem?
Given Larson’s comments this week, I think there is more truth to this than people are willing to admit.
Please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear your feedback.
Thanks for reading the NASCAR Fix!