The three biggest storylines coming out of Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400:
1. Erik Jones Wins One for the Young Guys
ISC must be thrilled.
Not only did Erik Jones win his first Cup series race Saturday night, he also secured a spot in the playoffs as well. Jones was in good shape to make the playoffs on points, but a string of poor finishes could have easily put him squarely on the bubble. He no longer needs to worry about that. However, his win does make things tighter among those already at or near the bubble. Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are currently fighting for the final two playoffs spots. Elliott holds an 18-point lead over Bowman, who leads Stenhouse by 19 points. Elliott is obviously in the best position, but the margin for error among the three is small.
For Jones, the win has to be a massive weight off his shoulders. The young man has talent. With his team, it would not surprise me if the wins start coming with more regularity.
2. Ricky’s Rough Night
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. did not make any friends at Daytona. He won stages one and two and led the most laps, but at what cost? Stenhouse was definitely responsible for one big crash and you could argue he was to blame for two. In the first Big One, Stenhouse was pushing Brad Keselowski who had to check up to keep from wrecking William Byron. Keselowski got turned and the melee was on. Keselowski put the blame on Byron for throwing a bad block, but Stenhouse was not entirely flush with Keselowski’s bumper. That’s a 50-50 call.
The second Big One was all Stenhouse. In an attempt to side draft Kyle Busch, Stenhouse got a little too close and clipped Busch in the rear to trigger another multi-car crash.
To put it delicately, Stenhouse was a little in over his head. The fans thought so, but more important, his peers thought so too. Stenhouse sacrificed any good mojo he had with the garage and unfortunately for him, he has nothing to show for it.
3. Daytona Demolition Derby
When the original Sony Playstation was released, one of my favorite games was Destruction Derby. It was the video game version of a demolition derby at the local fair. I was reminded of this watching Daytona.
I hate what restrictor plate races have become. I admit the racing is exciting if you want to call it racing. Officially, there were 20 cars running at the finish. I would say all but about five had some kind of damage, including Erik Jones’ car.
Restrictor plate races have always had The Big One. It’s inevitable, I get that. But there was a time when there would literally be only one Big One. We saw at least three Saturday night. And I don’t buy the argument that winning is just too important. When has winning ever not been important?
Talladega had caution-free races in 1997 and 2001. Sadly, that could never happen today. But why? The current rules package? Well then maybe it’s time to change it. Because what we witnessed at Daytona was not racing.