The Top Five: Breaking down the Brickyard 400

Five thoughts after Monday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway…

1. Keselowski a threat?

Ever since the “Big Three” entered the NASCAR lexicon in June, the obvious question has been: Which driver is the fourth? After all, having a four-man championship race requires more than just a Big Three.

Brad Keselowski won the Southern 500 last week, but just one race is nothing to get too excited about when it comes to championship contention. He hadn’t even won all year before Darlington.

But now Keselowski has won two in a row — and two of the biggest races of the season, at that — which makes him a lot harder to ignore entering the playoffs. When you combine Keselowski’s knack for managing the elimination system with his team’s ability to capitalize on opportunities like it has the last two weeks, that could be dangerous even for rivals who have more raw speed.

As we all know, the fastest car doesn’t always win in NASCAR — and the fastest four cars definitely don’t always make it to Homestead. Keselowski suddenly has the fourth-most playoff points (19), and I’d hate to be a driver having to beat him in a must-win situation.

Momentum is real in racing. So I’ve seen enough to pick Keselowski as my fourth playoff driver for Homestead (my complete predictions are in Item No. 5).

2. Unrestricted racing

This may very well have been the last unrestricted Brickyard 400 for the foreseeable future. So it’s fitting it ended with a classic, NASCAR-style finish.

On a restart with three laps to go, Clint Bowyer spun the tires and opened the door for Keselowski to challenge Denny Hamlin for the race lead. Despite Keselowski having fresher tires, he had to use every move in his driver bag of tricks to get by Hamlin as they were coming to the white flag.

What we saw were two drivers going all out and doing everything they could while operating at their peak talent level in order to win. It was the kind of moment that makes NASCAR so special.

But that’s likely going away soon. The All-Star aero package (or whatever your name for it is) was used in the Xfinity race earlier Monday, and you get the feeling most fans would say they preferred that racing over the Brickyard 400 itself.

NASCAR reportedly wants to run that package in up to 14 Cup races next year, and the Brickyard will certainly be one of them. And it works better here than other places.

At the same time, that is going to be tough to swallow. The idea of the Brickyard 400 — even with stages and competition cautions and the like — still has a purity. It’s the best stock car racers on the planet pushing themselves to the absolute limit and forcing their equipment to race on the edge of disaster. The best drivers often win the battle.

That might be the case in the future as well, but it will be more of a coincidence. Pack racing and drafting takes a different skill set, and it doesn’t take the same incredible talent to just run wide open around a 2.5-mile course.

So I’ll miss Cup races like today’s, even if it was boring at times compared to the Xfinity race. Because when it was all said and done, it felt more like real racing than what the future appears to hold.

3. One-day show for the win

Hey, did you notice NASCAR held two races without a single practice or qualifying lap on Monday — and had no problems whatsoever?

No one has dared to start a Cup race without some laps on the track since I can remember (2004 until now), although the weather has always allowed for some on-track activity before the race.

It turned out just fine, though. The drivers and engineers don’t need practice. They honestly don’t even need qualifying.

This proves NASCAR could easily do a one-day show if it wanted to. Show up to a track on a Wednesday night, give teams a 30-minute shakedown practice at 2 p.m., qualify at 4 p.m. and race at 7 p.m. It would be a great event and probably wouldn’t turn out any different if it was a three-day weekend with four hours of practice.

Officials should at least try it a couple times to see if it can work. After Indy, it seems like it would be an easy way to condense the season schedule without actually losing any races.

4. On the outside

As the playoffs begin, we bid farewell to the once-promising seasons of several drivers.

Jamie McMurray had made the playoffs for three straight seasons and everyone figured his consistency would get him back again this year. Instead, he finished the regular season ranked 21st in points and had news of his imminent departure from a full-time ride at Chip Ganassi Racing reported before Monday’s race.

Daniel Suarez, who finished the regular season 20th in the standings, was unable to capitalize on the great speed shown by Joe Gibbs Racing almost all season long. His three teammates made the playoffs while he did not. Meanwhile, reports have Truex replacing Suarez in what is currently the No. 19 car next season.

Then there’s Ryan Newman, who has made the playoffs seven times but was the first driver out this season. His future at Richard Childress Racing is in doubt as well.

Paul Menard couldn’t make the playoffs in his first season at Wood Brothers Racing, although Ryan Blaney did it in the same ride last year. And William Byron missed the playoffs in his rookie year as his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates all got through (albeit taking two of the last three spots).

5. Playoff predictions

I recorded a preseason playoff predictions podcast with Bubba Wallace in January. The results: I got 13 of the 16 drivers (I had Newman, McMurray and Byron instead of Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman and Aric Almirola) and Wallace got 12 correct (he had Newman, McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and himself instead of Almirola, Bowman, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer).

So I’m not exactly that great at predictions, but I’ll try again anyway for the playoffs.

In the first round, it will be Dillon, Bowman, Blaney and Jones getting eliminated.

In Round 2, Johnson’s shot at Championship No. 8 will end, along with Almirola, Kurt Busch and Logano.

When it gets down to the final eight drivers, it will be a shocking elimination for Truex, along with Bowyer, Hamlin and Larson.

Then it will come down to the final four: Kyle Busch, Harvick, Keselowski and Elliott — with Harvick winning his second title over Busch.

Brad Keselowski’s pit crew adds to Kyle Larson’s string of frustration

By John Haverlin

If Kyle Larson’s final pit stop were a mere tenth of a second quicker, he probably would have beaten Brad Keselowski off pit road and won the Southern 500.

Larson’s No. 42 car had looked untouchable all night. He swept the first two stages and led 284 of the 367 laps at Darlington. But when it came down to the key moment of the race, it was Keselowski’s crew that turned a lightning-fast stop instead of Larson’s.

Once again, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver came away with a frustrating ending to what could have been a perfect night. For two consecutive races, he’s settled for something short of what he might’ve deserved. It’s not that his pit crew was bad during the race; it just didn’t have the extra bit of speed necessary to top Keselowski’s group.

“We didn’t get beat off pit road by much, but it was enough,” Larson said. “Being the control car at any racetrack is huge, and we just didn’t have that. … Just lost a little bit of our edge there for the restart and I was pretty loose on that last run and lost a lot of ground there.”

Although he didn’t dominate Bristol two weeks ago, he was the pole winner and finished second to Kurt Busch. For the final 13 laps of that race, he pushed as hard as he could to catch the Stewart-Haas Racing car. 

The Bristol night race is an event Larson has said is the one he wants to win more than anything in NASCAR — other than maybe the Daytona 500. It was agonizing for him to not win after going to victory lane the day before in the Bristol Xfinity Series race.

Now to come up short again after dominating one of NASCAR’s most historic races is just another punch in the gut.

But Larson sees the silver lining: He gained two playoff points and earned 54 of a possible 60 points overall. That’s the type of performance that can help him in a few weeks when the competition intensifies during the postseason.

“We got some stage points, which is good for the playoffs,” he said. “Disappointed, but happy about the car we brought.”

So was there a difference for the No. 2 team during the race? Well, actually there was.

Winning crew chief Paul Wolfe admitted the pit crew did something new, but he wouldn’t reveal the secret.

“If you watch closely, you’ll probably see a difference, but I’m not going to talk about it a lot,” he said. “We’ve had an up-and-down year on pit road, and we continue to try and work on that and get better. We did some different things tonight, and we’re still learning — a good bit of confidence for those guys going into the playoffs.”

Keselowski’s Ford was a top-five car all night, and Team Penske finished 1-2, so you can’t take that away from Joey Logano and his race-winning teammate. Penske has been a ‘B’ team compared to the Big Three of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. most of the year, but it found something in the setups this weekend that no one else could replicate.

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my pit crew,” Keselowski said. “We were running second and that last stop they nailed it and got us out in the lead. I thought Kyle was really good, and he was flat-out flying. … In 2015, we led a bunch of laps and lost it on the last pit stop, and today my team won it on the last pit stop.”

Does Keselowski know what his team did to help him beat Larson off pit lane?

“I’m not privy to that information, so I couldn’t tell you,” he said. “But I’ll take it, whatever it was.”

How I Got Here with Joey Meier

Joey Meier, then an employee for Dale Earnhardt Inc., brings Dale Earnhardt Jr. the American flag after the famous 2001 victory at Dover — the first race after 9/11. (Courtesy Joey Meier)

Each week, I ask someone in the racing community to shed some light on their career path. Up next: Joey Meier, who serves as both spotter and pilot for Brad Keselowski.

Are you the only pilot/spotter full-time guy in NASCAR history?

No, no. That’s actually where a lot of pilots used to be. Dale Earnhardt’s pilot, Terry Labonte’s pilot, Harry Gant’s pilot, they all spotted back in the day. Before a spotter was required, the pilot was already at the racetrack and with the limited manpower and the availability of the pilots (it made sense).

One of the things we do well, as you know from most piloting, is we talk on the radio well. So Mike Collier, Danny Culler, Eddie Masencup, those three come to mind. They would actually spot. Eddie Masencup stayed with Terry Labonte the longest. I’m kind of the second generation pilot/spotter, but I’m the only one right now that does both fly and spot.

You’ve been with Brad for quite a while now — I guess his whole career?

So Brad and I met when I was at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated back in 2006. To back up just a couple of years, Martin Truex Jr. ran the Busch Series in ’04 and ’05 with Chance 2. I was with him, and at the end of ’05, he went Cup racing, I went with him in the Cup car.

We didn’t have a Busch team at DEI. A younger, new kid came through the garage in 2006 who was driving for a lower funded team out of Tennessee, Keith Coleman Racing — Brad Keselowski. He asked me, “Hey, I need a spotter.” I had never really heard of the Keselowskis; only saw his mom on the roof a little bit, but had never met any of them. And I started spotting for him at Keith Coleman Racing in 2006.

Then he went to JR Motorsports in ’07 a little bit, and they only had a single car team over there. Whenever he would run a second team with Dale Jr. driving, then I would spot for Brad, and then essentially TJ (Majors) was spotting Dale Jr. So I stayed with Brad and did at least one race from 2006 all the way to when he came to Penske in 2010.

I was at DEI spotting for Truex. Then Truex left DEI in 2009, Jamie McMurray was coming over to fill that spot, but he was bringing his own spotter. So I was going to be out of a spotting gig, but I was still going to be able to fly at Champion Air (owned by DEI). Everybody was trying to figure out how I was going to fly for one race team and spot for another, and as you can imagine the logistics of that weren’t going to work out well.

The fall race of Michigan in 2009, Brad approached me and says, “Hey, I think I’m making a deal here, I’d like you to come fly my airplane that I don’t have yet and spot for me for this new race team. Can’t tell you who it’s with, but it’s a big name team.” I said, “Let’s talk about it as it gets further.” And the rest is history. He came to Penske in January of 2010 and I left DEI at the same time and came with Brad and I’ve been with him ever since.

I didn’t even realize that you were with Brad before he was the Brad we know today. So going back before that, what came first — the piloting or the spotting? I’m assuming that it’s the piloting based on what you were saying about flying with Champion Air. How did this all get started for you?

So we’re going to back up to even before I was born. My father (Fred Meier) and my uncle were involved in NASCAR in 1958. They both raced on the beach. The last year that they raced on the beach, dad and uncle drove a Sportsman car and a Modified car on the last race in 1958 on the beach.

Unfortunately, my father’s car broke during qualifying. He qualified, but wasn’t able to start because we didn’t have backup engines in 1958. But my uncle qualified I believe in the top 15. Got a really nice picture that’s actually in the Hall of Fame — Mr. (Glenn) Wood was in the pole, and in the shot you can see the number 237 is tenth row, maybe eighth row back there. So he actually qualified.

Fred Meier, father of Joey Meier, qualified for the final race on the beach but did not run due to a mechanical failure. (Courtesy Joey Meier)

There’s been racing all my life. When I was born, I was actually born on a Wednesday — and my mom was on the track the previous Saturday before I was born, at the race with my dad.

So now we fast forward and now I’m old enough to work on cars. That’s what I’m going to do for a living, I’m going to work on cars.

You wanted to be a mechanic?

Yep. Worked on cars, grew up at Hialeah Speedway, I was going to be around race cars, was going work on cars for a living. Took auto mechanics in school for two and a half years. I graduate. My mom and dad were divorced when I was very young, so I never knew them together. Lived in the same town, had very good parents, saw both of them all the time.

I graduated on a Wednesday, and my mom was at my dad’s house for one of the first times that I can ever remember as a get-together. And that Saturday I was at Hialeah Speedway as I normally would be, working on McCann Motorsports’ Street Stock or Thundercar, and my mom was involved in an aviation accident. She was severely injured, recovered later on, but I had never been in aviation up to that point. That sucked me into aviation.

I was going to be a race car mechanic or an automotive mechanic. That was it. So in ’84 with her accident, it drew me into aviation. I moved down to Marathon, which is where she was recovering, and I worked at the airport as a line guy and they gave us a really good incentive to get my pilot’s license. Even after I got my pilot’s license, I then quit flying and went back to aviation maintenance for two and a half years. Got my airframe and powerplant license and I was still trying to pursue that career.

Somewhere down the road of aviation maintenance, flying was really a secondary thought because I was a gearhead, gotta turn wrenches. Moved back down to Marathon as an A&P mechanic working in the back. Started flying a little bit again, trying to fulfill some of my licenses.

Well, Dale Earnhardt flew into Marathon, Florida. He’d gotten one of those King Airs, and he flew into Marathon, Florida in 1988. The day that I met him and my future boss, Mike Collier, who spotted for Dale in the Busch car back then, it instantly changed my career path. Now I went from being a possible airline guy, most likely gearhead aviation maintenance guy, to now I want to combine racing and flying because I didn’t know there was an ability there. So then I got all my ratings.

So how did the meeting with them go, or why?

Well I was a huge Earnhardt fan, a huge NASCAR fan. So I had my toolbox back in aviation maintenance and one of the line guys, Alex, came over and said, “You won’t believe who’s out here.” So the tail number was 1 Delta Echo. Before the logo/crest became famous, he had the Dale Earnhardt signature on the tail. He’s like, “You’re not gonna believe who’s here. Dale Earnhardt’s here.” I’m like “No way.”

I rolled my toolbox out to the plane, he signed the back of my toolbox, which I still have. And I met Mike Collier, my boss. Wore him out, all day long. Just a superfan. He was in the FBO, just bullshitting with this huge fan.

He made the mistake of giving me his cell phone number. And I have it — same number to this day, from 1988, he had a cell phone, to this day, it’s the same number. So it’s kind of cool.

But I called him all the time and I finished all my ratings and said, “This is what I want to do, I’m gonna work for you one day.” Called him every month and would say, ”Hey man, cool race.” He didn’t care about racing, he was flying. But I was a huge race fan. So I left when I got all my ratings and went down there, then went to Connecticut for a couple of years to do charter cargo maintenance and went to the airlines from ’92 to ’97.

What airlines?

It was the Trans States airlines, the TWA regional carrier, and we did that for five years. But in the middle of that, in the late ’96s I really wanted to pursue getting out to the North Carolina area. I was living in St. Louis. And I moved, came out with my resume, dressed up in a goofy suit.

My best story about that is I walked into a race shop — back then there wasn’t a fan zone — and I walked into the back of the shop and I sat in one of they guy’s offices. Here I am, goofy blue suit, packet of resumes, and a gentleman walks in, he says, “How did you get in here?” I said, “I just walked through that door.” He says, “Make sure it’s locked on your way out, have a nice day.”

That gentleman was Paul Andrews (the famous crew chief). Now we fast forward really quick, years later, he worked at DEI. Flew on my airplane, and I had to remind him of that stupid story of some guy in a blue suit. He’s like, “I remember that. Some guy was just sitting in my office.” I go, “Yeah, that was me.”

So in ’96 I went over to Mooresville, I attempted to get a job. Mike Collier actually set me up with an interview with Jasper because they were in Indiana. I called and said, “I really don’t want to work there, I want to work for you.” He said, “Well, I think we’re going to expand. I think we’re going to expand. Hold on.”

Then if you remember, if we go back in history, Jeff Green was just starting to drive the 14 car, the (Racing) for Kids car. We actually missed a race, then Steve Park was getting into the Busch car after Jeff Green got out of it. And then we started expanding on the Cup side. When we did that, we got our second King Air. And the minute they got that second King Air, Mike called and said, “Are you still interested?” Two weeks later I was there, and I started at DEI right away.

Joey Meier, shown early in his flying career. (Courtesy Joey Meier)

I went to school at the end of June for the King Air, went three days, the fourth day I came home to unload my truck, the fifth day I was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with the Busch team and the truck team racing Milwaukee, and that was how fast it happened. So then right away, the minute I was at the racetrack, had wrenches in my hand, had no idea of spotting at the time. We had the perfect spotter, Steve Crisp, who spotted for Dale Jr.; Kevin Cram spotted for Ron Hornaday. And I was listening to those guys and said, “That’s really cool, I think I can do this.”

I was still working in the garage. That’s what I did. Tony (Eury) Sr. used to tell me, because I’d run back and forth at the time from the truck team to the Busch team — I was the only one flying then so I knew both teams really well — he was like, “You’ve got to pick a team, son. Who are you gonna work with?” So that’s just one of those funny stories, I showed up in my white tennis shoes and here I am at the racetrack working on one of these cars.

And that kind of worked its way through the 90s. Dale Jr. went Cup racing, still worked in the garage, worked alongside Jeff Clark, did a lot of underneath, helped them changed valve springs right there.

And then they had that fatal ARCA wreck at Charlotte (in 2002). And NASCAR changed the rules — because up to that point, we didn’t have to have a spotter for practice. We’d spot from the top of the truck.

Well, we only had a couple of King Airs at the time, and manpower was very low. I was at the racetrack, so I was able to go spot. I worked on the car, would go spot practice, go back down, work on the car — we didn’t spot qualifying then.

And then for the race, the other spotter, who was Stevie Reeves, would fly in. Ty Norris would do the 8 car — which I did during practice because I was working on that car at the time in the garage. And then Stevie would fly in a do the 1 car.

But during practice on Fridays and Saturdays, I would spot for Dale Jr. Ty would spot for the 1 car, and then Stevie would fly in on Sunday. So I was doing practice only, really staying in the garage.

If we go back to 2001, there was a very famous scene at Dover, where a kid runs out and hands Dale Jr. a big flag. That was me.

You were the one who gave Dale Jr. the American flag after the 9/11 race?

Yes, that’s me.

I did not know that.

I actually cut it down. We were going to Victory Lane, I grabbed the snips, cut the flag off, I was walking to Victory Lane with it and he said, “Come bring me that big flag!” So I jumped over the wall with it and walked out and I’m the one that put it in the car. So that’s again, very small world.

So then, when Michael came to DEI in 2001, initially Danny Culler was spotting for him, and I made the move to go spot full-time on the 15 car. We won the Daytona 500; we were the first car in the new Victory Lane at Daytona. We won one of the 150 races. In fact, it was the first 150 race because I couldn’t get to victory lane at the time, we had no crossover. So my very, very first win was at Daytona as a spotter.

And then Michael’s career changed and I was with Truex in ’04-’05 on the Busch team, and went full-time with Truex in ’06, ’07, ’08. Got Truex’s first win at Dover, which was fantastic.

I thought we were in really good shape at DEI. At the time, we were expanding, things were going very well. And then something really small happened — some driver left. And then everything kind of took a turn downhill, and I met Brad and here I am years later. So it’s a bit of an interesting path from where I started to where I am.

Joey Meier spotted for Martin Truex Jr. during the Busch Series days.

So that raised a couple questions through this story that you just told. First of all, so you were a big Earnhardt fan and a big NASCAR fan. Once you got to be working for the airline, with his company, did you have much interaction with him and what was it like to be around him?

We’ll back up even before. At the airlines, you have a pilot bag. Everybody’s seen the pilots walking through the big black briefcase looking thing. I had his white decaled signature on the side of my pilot bag. So yeah, I was a huge fan.

So now we fast forward to being hired, flying Dale Earnhardt and working for Dale Earnhardt was essentially like working for my dad. It was that big of an honor.

I lost my father on my 30th birthday in 1996 and got hired at Dale’s in ’97. He was instantly the guy that I not only looked up to, but wanted to impress. I wanted to make sure that my standards met him — before, that would have been my father. And Dale, not that he even knew it, but he was the guy that whenever you work for somebody, regardless of who that boss was, you wanted to make sure Dale was happy.

And the flying side, normally he rode on the plane, so I flew him quite a bit on the team plane to the racetrack and then Teresa and Taylor, who was young enough to be in school at the time, would ride out either Saturday or Sunday and he would ride home with them.

But a little bit of trivia, I was actually fortunate enough to be one of the spotters at the 24 hour race (in 2001). I spotted for Dale at the 24 hour race with Ty Norris, and we had Andy Pilgrim and Dale Jr. and Mr. (Franck) Freon and those guys drove the Corvette.

We flew home after that 24 hour race, and Dale handed me a little cash money, and said, “Man, I really appreciate it. Take your wife to dinner for being gone so long.” So working for him, there’s nothing but accolades that I can say. He’s everything that everybody has ever said good that I could ever remember, and it was a huge crushing blow to me personally — as it was to the industry — when he left us in February of ’01.

But up to that point, my life was set. I was going to be there forever. And I would have been there forever. If there was ever a chance for me to get a tattoo, it would have been the DEI crest. I don’t have any tattoos, but that was as close to where I figured I was going to be there forever. A lot of people’s worlds changed in ’01, but working for him was fantastic.

Given your roots in racing and everything, I guess, do you ever reminisce with Dale Jr. or people like that?

It’s interesting, because I was fortunate to — Dale did a video with the Matthew Good Band and we went to Memphis, we went to Texas, we went to Vegas. We were gone for the whole week doing that video. Well I was the pilot, and they stuck me in a couple of scenes of the video. It’s really a lot of fun.

So if we went back on YouTube and found that…?

Yup, Matthew Good and Dale Jr. You’ll see a couple pictures of me and the plane. So it’s pretty funny.


But no, we do (reminisce). A lot of us, when we go “back in the day,” (people say they) didn’t realize back in the day how good we had it. Well that’s a unique thing about that time, specifically when Dale was around, and even soon after he left ’02, ’03, ’04. We all knew how good we had it. We had so much fun at the time.

It’s a different mentality in the garage now. Not that it’s bad, but you’re worried about the future more now. Then, there was no concern about the future, you were there to enjoy every day and you got to enjoy every day. Dale Jr. and Michael Waltrip, Steve Park, Ron Hornaday, Kenny Wallace was there for a little while, Darrell Waltrip was there for a handful of races. They just made things so much fun that you enjoyed every day.

So when we go back in the day, it’s not like, “Man, I wish I had known how good we had it.” We all knew how good we had it. I still am very fortunate to our planes were parked very close to each other in the airport in North Carolina. So I see Dale. We don’t go to lunch every day, but I do see him. In fact, about a year ago, I actually flew his airplane out here with his main pilot, and there’s also been that relationship.

I’ve got a couple texts that I’ve saved on my phone that have come from Dale over time that just make me realize that he has always appreciated the people around him and fortunately I’ve been one of those people around him. He really has an appreciation level a lot like his dad. He’s not going to go on the mountaintops and scream your name, but behind closed doors, which is really cool, he does make it very known that you’re appreciated in the time that you’re around and helping.

I helped on that team when he was coming up on the Busch car in the 31 car. I was one of those crew members that was the extra guy. Wesley Sherrill, who’s now on the 18 over at Gibbs, there was a scab crew that was thrown together. Well I was one of those guys. It was really cool to be a part of that.

That’s really fascinating. I think one thing people might want to know also was you mentioned your mom was in an aviation accident in ’84, and that is what sucked you into it. If we can go back to that for a minute, why did that create sort of an interest in aviation? Was she in a plane that crashed, or what happened?

So the gentleman who she was dating at the time was actually a seaplane instructor from the factory, it was a Lake Amphibian. And a Lake Amphibian is a very unique looking airplane — if you saw one, it doesn’t sit on floats, it actually lands on the hull of the airplane. The engines are on top and it’s turned around backwards. It’s a unique airplane and one of the most fun airplanes I’ve ever flown.

They were flying, he was goofing around and they wrecked. Unfortunately when they wrecked, he was thrown out of the airplane and had no damage. Her seatbelt was very loose on her, as we tend to do in the airlines when anybody rides, they don’t put their seatbelt on tight. Well when they wrecked, she was bounced around and she ended up breaking her neck in two different spots.

From that point on, it intrigued me because I didn’t know about aviation or how to prevent her accident, or how it happened or what caused it and that drew me an interest in to making sure I was more educated on that subject and then I started taking flying lessons. It was that simple.

It was something that I never thought about. As a kid you grow up and you’re thinking of an airline pilot and doctor — they’re like right together (in terms of brainpower). Well now I understand it’s different. I’m not saying you don’t have to be smart, but at the time, I didn’t think I was smart enough to be an airline pilot or any pilot for that matter. So it drew me in realizing that I am capable of being a pilot and being good enough at it over a long term to excel in the industry to promote the aviation industry — which I’m a huge proponent of the industry.

I speak once a week just about the (aviation) industry, trying to promote the industry because it has such a bad rap. After Michigan, we were able to run a couple of friends down to Myrtle Beach for a couple of days, they thought it was the greatest thing in the world. Ran a bowling tournament last week in Syracuse, brought the truck driver of the 48 home, we bowled together. He had never been in a small airplane, thought it was the greatest thing in the world.

So every time I have a chance to introduce somebody to my industry, I want to be prepared mentally and educationally that I can promote the industry. That’s how it got me started. I’m like, “If this happened to my mom, I’ve got to be able to prevent this.” And the only way to prevent it was to be in the industry and educate myself and that’s how I started flying.

Do you think, given the modern day NASCAR, is there a path for somebody else to be a spotter/pilot?

It’s interesting because the industry itself relies on aviation. It has to to survive. As you know — you run the (commercial) airlines, extremely unreliable. You have to build in lots of cushion before and after trying to get home or trying to get to the racetrack. Race teams simply can’t do that.

So private aviation may be a luxurious way to travel, but it’s not a luxury — it’s a necessity. We have to use it, we have to have private aviation. So there’s always gonna be a spot for pilots in the NASCAR industry.

Conversely, there’s 40 race cars on the track on any given Sunday. Every one of those cars has to have a spotter. So there’s always going to be a need for a spotter.

But guys today, the relationship between a driver and a spotter is tighter than ever. When I got started and drivers came to a new race team, they just used whatever spotter that was, because the spotter worked for the race team. Now if Brad were to leave, like we saw Carl Edwards leave — we see drivers move, like Matt Kenseth, and when they move, they bring their spotter with them.

So it’s very important for somebody trying to get into the industry — the only way to get a job in the industry is to be in the garage. They’re not gonna call you at home and go, “Hey, we’re looking for a spotter.” It’s somebody that has to be at the racetrack.

The best way to do that is to be that voluntary crew guy and you get hired onto a full-time job. And that’s not starting at the Cup Series, that’s starting on the K&N side, starting on the ARCA side, starting at the Truck side, which is what I did originally working at the garage. I didn’t walk into the Cup garage and they said, “That guy looks like his head will fit a headset.” It didn’t work that way. You worked your way up, and that’s what’s really important.

Fortunately, I have a really cool job. I’m very aware of it. Flying and spotting are two really cool things. But it didn’t start there. As you’ve heard back in the 80s I flew cargo and charter and flight instructed — which I still do —those things that still keep me in the sport.

But you have to be in the garage. And once you’re there, then the opportunities exist, whether it’s a tire test and you’re gonna go try and spot because we don’t have a spotter for that, or even somebody being in the garage looking for some volunteer help. You have to be in the garage first in order to get a job in the garage. It doesn’t work any other way.

Race teams are always looking for help — not Hendrick, not Penske — but you can go down right now to StarCom, they’re looking for help. TriStar’s looking for help. Guaranteed if you show up wanting to push a car around the garage, they’re going to allow you to do it. Maybe pay you expenses and a little bit of per diem and you can get into the garage.

But definitely over on the Truck side, definitely over on the Xfinity side. People are looking for help. You’re not gonna go to work for Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson as your first job, and I think that’s what people tend to forget. Those opportunities exist, you just have to be open to moving around the country as I did and getting in the garage and pushing the race car around.

12 Questions with Brad Keselowski (2018)

The series of weekly driver interviews continues with Brad Keselowski of Team Penske. This is Keselowski’s eighth time doing a 12 Questions interview. The interview was recorded as a podcast, but is also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

Probably three or four times a month.

That’s fairly often. Do you have nightmares? Just envision yourself driving?

A little bit of both. Sometimes it’s like I won a race. Sometimes it’s like the “I’m late to the car” thing. Or the “I don’t have any clothes on” dream, like you’re naked in the race car or at the race car. And then there’s sometimes the “Crash really hard and die” dream.

Oh! That took a dramatic turn there.

Yeah. It covers the whole spectrum.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

Eh. I don’t know. I mean, it’s racing. I feel like when you get in the car, you can expect those things are going to happen.

If you do something intentional, then yeah. You should have enough humility to accept the fact those things aren’t always necessary.

I was at Martinsville a few weeks ago and we were struggling — I had run into the back of somebody and broken the splitter. I’d been really good at Martinsville for the last few years, and we weren’t running as well as I know we were capable of. I didn’t know the reason was the splitter was damaged.

But AJ Allmendinger came up behind me and he was a little faster. I was already agitated because we weren’t running well, and then the second he caught me, he ran into the back of me. In my mind, it was like, “Dude, make a move! Don’t just run into someone.” So I was mad, and I ran into him.

A day or two later and I thought, “Man, I shouldn’t have done that. That really wasn’t cool.” So I said something to him, because I felt like I was wrong. Those scenarios are appropriate to apologize.

On the other side, if the two of you are racing and you get a little loose and run up into somebody a little bit? Nah. That’s just racing.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

That one is pretty easy: It’s my wife or daughter when they say, “I love you.”

4. NASCAR comes to you and says, “Brad, we’re bringing a celebrity to the track and we’d love for you to host them.” Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host at a race?

Probably Elon Musk.

But I feel like you’d start debating about self-driving cars.

Oh, absolutely. That’s part of why it would be fun.

You’d want to pick his brain and also say, “Here’s why it’s not going to work out for you.”

Pretty much. And he might say something that makes me think about it differently. And that’s OK. That’s part of why I’d enjoy it. I would enjoy it not from the cult of celebrity perspective, I would enjoy it from the viewpoint perspective.

5. In an effort to show this is a health conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

Yeah. I don’t think that one’s too hard. It’s achievable. It’d have to be a good race though, not one of those races where the first pit stall doesn’t mean much — like Pocono. The first pit stall at Pocono is like pbbbt. It’s not worth that much. So I would think it would be like a Martinsville or a Homestead.

No cheese, no meat, no milk…you could do all that?

Yeah. I try really hard not to drink milk now. I do a little bit of cheese; I try to avoid that, to be quite honest. If I eat cheese, it’s because it’s on something like pizza. But I could get around it.

It would be harder to me to give up bread, which I try do to that as well.

I don’t have a vegan diet right now, but I’m not far off it — other than I like steak, which is really far off it.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished. This is the 2015 Kansas spring race, also known as the SpongeBob SquarePants 400. Do you know where you finished?

’15 and ’16 run together for me. My guess is fifth.

It’s actually seventh. You started third, led 43 laps and Jimmie Johnson won. You finished behind Matt Kenseth and ahead of Kurt Busch. Does that ring a bell at all?

No. Not at all. I’ve had a lot of forgettable races at Kansas, and I forgot that one, clearly.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

That’s an oxymoron, because I don’t think rap is good. There can’t be a best rapper if I don’t think it’s good.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

Man, this one could get me in a lot of trouble. Is this like a driver? Media member? Has anyone gone media with their answer?

Not yet. If there’s someone in the media you want to take a swing at…

This is a very violent question.

It is, but Dale Jr. came up with this question for his 12 Questions last year, and I thought it was too good to pass up.

Most punchable face…definitely not Mike Helton. Let’s go ahead and write that one off. And not Steve O’Donnell. I mean, they’re big guys. Not going to end well.

Man, I don’t know if I have an answer for this one. You have stumped me. I’m trying really hard not to be a punching guy, and you have me thinking in a different gear.

Oh! I actually do know what this is — those damn Toyota mascots.

The ones that walk around with the big heads?

Yes. Yeah. They’re very punchable. Big heads, soft — you wouldn’t hurt anybody.

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

I have to work backward from who shouldn’t do something. Taylor Swift should not be my bus driver, because that would not be good. There’d be some competition there and it’s not a good environment. That would not end well for anyone.

So that means she’d have to be spotter or crew chief, and I actually think she’d be a good crew chief. She has a very good strategy to what she does. I’ll give her credit.

I don’t think LeBron is a very good speaker, so I’m going to put him as my bus driver. Big guy, and bus drivers usually follow you around (to help with crowd control). Yeah, I like that idea.

So that leaves Tom Hanks as my spotter. And that’s perfect. Tom Hanks, we’ll go with him. He’s got one of America’s most lovable voices.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

Having a motorhome. I use the motorhome before the race.

Why don’t other drivers do that? No one has answered that way this year.

I don’t know. I guess they wait until the last minute. I can’t get inside their heads.

But having a motorhome is really important for a race car driver at this level. That’s hard to explain to people, because there’s some luxurious parts to having a motorhome. But there are also some basic necessities — traffic going to and from the races, the unforgiving schedule a race car driver has. But probably the one people don’t ever bring up is pure sanitary habits.

In the early days of my Xfinity career, before I had a motorhome, I would get sick at the racetrack almost every weekend. I’m absolutely convinced it’s from shaking hands and then eating — or from the bathrooms. Because the bathrooms at racetracks, let’s face it, are not good. So I’d get sick every race weekend. Once I started having a motorhome at the racetrack, I stopped getting sick.

That’s a big deal. You don’t want to be sick in a race car or during a race weekend; it hinders your ability to perform. So I try to use my motorhome for those things.

Not that there aren’t some luxurious things, but there are some practical applications.

What’s really interesting about NASCAR for me is in a lot of ways, it caters to having money and expensive things like that and then (also has) the blue collar (experience), camping in tents — but nothing in between. When I go to a football game or hockey game or basketball game, all the accommodations are right in the middle. There’s not a lot of rich guy accommodations at a basketball game. You could get a suite, but you’ll see a (celebrity) sitting courtside, and it’s just a normal chair. It’s not like he’s got a La-Z-Boy sofa or anything like that. He’s just closer. It’s not nicer, it’s closer.

Motorsports is set up so much differently. It’s either really blue collar or really nice and nothing in between. It’s so strange to me.

11. NASCAR misses the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and decides a replacement is needed. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

Eh, I don’t think I’d take any money to do it. It’s not me. It’s not who I am, so I wouldn’t do it.

What if they offered you $5 billion?

Nah, it’s not me. It’s just money, Jeff.

I guess. But you could be the next Elon Musk.

Yeah, but I’d have to take it from someone else who would have the same ability. It’s not like they’d just be generating money, printing it. It’d have to come from someone else. So essentially, I’d be stealing from someone else.

OK. I guess I wouldn’t mind that, but…

I mean, what would keep the person who had that money they were going to give me from doing great things?

The fact they’re dumb enough to give you the money.

That’s free will. Who am I to interfere with that?

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Jimmie Johnson, and he wanted to know: Do you wear underwear beneath the fire-retardant gear worn under a firesuit?

No, because it’s not flame-resistant.

But wouldn’t that block the —

No. No, that’s not how it works. Flame retardant underwear, which I’m wearing, is meant to do a number of specific things — from wicking away sweat to being flame retardant to creating an air barrier to your skin. The whole concept is to create an air barrier. So with respect to that, if you put something in between it, in theory, you’re creating another pocket — but that pocket isn’t flame resistant, and it could light up.

I see. The more you know.

Like you should never wear a cotton T-shirt under a firesuit. And you should definitely, never ever — if you’re a racer out there reading this — wear like an Under Armour shirt.


Yes. They’re extremely flammable. If you wear one of those (workout-type) shirts underneath the race suit and it gets even a little hot, it will melt to your skin and fuse with it. So in a fire, you take what might have been first-degree burns and up them by wearing that. The worst possible situation, if you’re anywhere near fire, is to wear an Under Armour type shirt.

The next interview is Matt DiBenedetto. Do you have a question I can ask him?

Matt! You know what I was always curious about with Matt is how did he become so Reddit-popular. I’ve never understood that. Was it like a person he met that runs the page? Like how did that happen? I feel there’s a backstory there. I’m really curious about that, because every time something comes up on Reddit, it’s DiBenedetto.

Previous 12 Questions interviews with Brad Keselowski:

May 19, 2010

June 29, 2011

July 11, 2012

Oct. 2, 2013

Aug. 7, 2014

June 10, 2015

Sept. 29, 2016


The Top Five: Breaking down the Auto Club 400

Five thoughts after Sunday’s race in Fontana…

1. We were robbed

Nothing against Martin Truex Jr.’s dominating win, but Sunday sure could have been a lot more interesting had Kevin Harvick not wrecked with Kyle Larson during the first stage.

What would have happened? Would Harvick have won his fourth straight race? Would Truex have thumped the field anyway?

“We’ll never know,” Truex said.

ARGH! That stinks. Even Furniture Row Racing owner Barney Visser sounded a little disappointed about it.

“After the beginning of the season there, watching Harvick run away with everything, I wasn’t sure where we were at,” Visser said. “I wish he would have not had the problems he had today and we could have run him again. I think we had something for him today.”

Now everyone has to wait for three weeks — until Texas Motor Speedway — to find out who will win a head-to-head battle on an intermediate track (Martinsville is next week, followed by an off week).

Still, the lack of evidence didn’t stop drivers from guessing what would have happened.

“Just the little bit I was around Kevin, I felt like he still had the best car,” Larson said. “Who’s to say, though?”

Truex said he left pit road after the first stop and drove away from Harvick — which leads him to believe the No. 78 car might have won anyway. It was pretty damn fast, after all.

But there’s no way to know for sure.

Sigh. Oh well.

“I’m sure we’ll have plenty of chances to race each other throughout the rest of the season,” Truex said.

2. What was that?

So what exactly happened in the Larson/Harvick incident?

Though it initially seemed Harvick was somehow retaliating against Larson for hard racing (a theory floated by the FOX broadcast), that turned out not to be the case.

Harvick said he went down to side-draft Larson when they came off the corner, and he was “trying to get a little too much right there.”

“That’s my fault for coming down the racetrack and trying to side draft,” he said. “… That was just a dumb mistake on my part.”

Larson had a more detailed explanation when asked if he was surprised Harvick was racing him so hard. Harvick had pitted one lap earlier than Larson, so the Chip Ganassi Racing driver was coming with slightly fresher tires.

“I think he knew he was better than I was overall, so he was just trying to hold me off, race me hard to maybe burn my stuff up, and then he could stay in front of me and not have to worry about me 10, 15 laps later when he would be better than me,” Larson said.

Makes sense, right? At that point, Harvick just made a mistake rather than acting out of malice.

“I was actually having a lot of fun racing like that because this place is really cool and you can just kind of go wherever,” Larson said. “I respect Kevin a lot. I think he respects me a lot, too.  You never want to see anything like that happen.”

3. Harvick, and…

After five races, it’s not much of a mystery which team is the one to beat. And it’s not the one that ended up in victory lane.

“I don’t think anything changes with the 4 car being the fastest car in the field right now,” Brad Keselowski said.

“He’ll be good every weekend,” Larson said.

If that’s the case, Truex — now the points leader — is probably second-best, with Kyle Busch also right there.

But who else is good?

Larson, for one. Keselowski and Joey Logano, too. The thing is, they’re all a half-step away from being able to run up front regularly like Harvick, Truex or Busch.

“I’ve been happy to see how we’ve started so far,” Larson said. “But we still have a little ways to go to win.”

Keselowski said he’s been about a fifth-to-10th place car most weeks and noted the team hasn’t seriously contended for a win. And Logano, who missed the playoffs last year after his infamous encumbered penalty at Richmond, said his team is “getting closer” but isn’t there yet.

“Today we had some decent speed and it’s progress in the right direction,” Logano said. “We still have a ways to go, but we’re getting closer to where we can have solid runs, score stage points, score good finishes and keep ourselves up there for points.”

There are really no surprises in the top half of the playoff standings. Truex and Busch are 1-2, followed by the Team Penske trio of Logano-Keselowski-Ryan Blaney. Then it’s Denny Hamlin and Larson.

4. Standings surprises

Speaking of the point standings, there are still a few unexpected trends after five races.

— Despite winning three of the first five races, Harvick is only eighth in the standings. That’s because of Daytona and Fontana, where he got only two points.

— All four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers are in the top 11 of the standings. In fact, they are 8-9-10-11 (Harvick-Clint Bowyer-Aric Almirola-Kurt Busch).

— Chase Elliott is the lowest-running Hendrick driver (21st) after Jimmie Johnson moved up to 18th in the last couple weeks. The lead Hendrick driver is Alex Bowman, who is 16th.

— Jamie McMurray, who has pointed his way into the playoffs, is only 26th in the standings — behind Michael McDowell and both JTG Daugherty Racing drivers.

— Daniel Suarez is 23rd in the standings while all of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates are 13th or higher.

5. The clock says Bubba Time

As Bubba Wallace walked off pit road following a 20th-place finish at Fontana, he was already looking toward next week — his first visit to Martinsville Speedway since winning the Truck Series race there four years ago.

“Man, I’m so pumped up and so excited to get there,” he said. “I want to win this fucker. … We’ll have to be ready there.”

Unlike recent weeks — such as Phoenix, where two loose wheels turned a possible top-15 day into a 28th-place finish — the No. 43 team might be rolling into the next race with some positive mojo.

There wasn’t anything particularly special about Fontana, except nothing went wrong.

“Smooth on pit road all day, didn’t make any dumb moves on the racetrack and came home 20th,” Wallace said. “We can improve from that.”

Wallace and his team are still figuring each other out, and the team is transitioning to Chevrolet and its alliance with Richard Childress Racing at the same time. But in only nine career Cup starts, Wallace now has top-20 finishes in five of them — all with a mid-level team — and has a three-point lead in the Rookie of the Year battle with William Byron.

“We came back here (after the Phoenix disappointment), regrouped, took a deep breath and can use this as a little bit of momentum going into Martinsville,” he said.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Las Vegas race

Five thoughts following Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway…

1. The Game Done Changed

Brad Keselowski sounded the alarm bells last year when he said NASCAR hadn’t let one manufacturer get so far ahead of the others since the 1970s.

He was talking about Toyota, of course. And with only minor rules changes coming into this year and Chevrolet rolling out its slick new Camaro, Keselowski was worried the Fords might “take a drubbing,” as he put it last November.

But after seeing Fords finish sweep the podium at Atlanta and then take six of the top 10 spots Sunday at Las Vegas — including another dominating win by Kevin Harvick — Keselowski said he is feeling differently.

“My initial reaction is — without a full data set — it seems to imply the field has been evened out a little bit,” Keselowski told me as he walked down pit road. “Or at least the balance has been shifted.”

Keselowski believed Harvick’s strong performance at the end of last year was in spite of the Fords not being on an equal playing field (his words) as the Toyotas. But now, he said, “We got to an equal playing field, and he showed to be as strong as he probably should have been last year.”

So what changed? Well, many people have been pointing the finger at the new inspection system (which was initially called “Hawk-Eye” and then “The OSS” and now the “Optical Scanning Station,” but for our purposes we’ll call the “black tent”).

Does most of the credit go to the black tent? Keselowski gave an initial yes, but he cautioned it’s still too early to know for sure.

“We felt all along if the cars were held to the gold standard — which is the submittal (of the car’s specifications that get approved by NASCAR) — then the playing field would be level,” he said. “And we didn’t feel like that was the case last year, which is why we pushed really hard for this system so everyone was racing what they were supposed to be racing.”

2. Big OSS

Along those lines, Harvick noted the rules might not have changed, but the enforcement has. The black tent — “Big OSS,” as SiriusXM host Jim Noble called it — has made for “a totally different interpretation of the rules,” Harvick said.

“There was a lot of things with the splitters last year that some people were doing and people weren’t doing,” he said. “There’s not rules changes per se, the rules were really different and how teams interpret them.”

There’s a common splitter now, which teams all purchase from the same supplier. So that can’t be manipulated in the same way.

Aside from that, the rules haven’t changed much. So it’s sort of fascinating to see how teams approach the big black tent.

As you recall, Martin Truex Jr.’s team failed three times before qualifying at Atlanta. But then the 78 car was one of the first teams to make it through before the Atlanta race inspection.

Similarly, Jimmie Johnson’s team got through pre-qualifying inspection at Las Vegas easily, but then failed three times Sunday morning before the race (which forced them to start in the back and resulted in the ejection of the car chief).

It was quite common in the last couple years for teams to loudly whisper about NASCAR’s laser inspection station being inconsistent. To this day, many swear the LIS would occasionally spit out bogus numbers.

“Last year, there were so many (times) that you’d go through tech and you’d go through with the same car that you didn’t change — and the numbers were different,” team owner Tony Stewart said. “We didn’t change anything on the race cars, and numbers were drastically different.”

But that’s not the case with this new system so far. Teams are getting through easily, and when they don’t, it’s because they’re pushing the limits — not because NASCAR’s equipment is inconsistent.

Just look at Johnson’s team on Sunday. You can’t fault Chad Knaus for trying everything he could to get Johnson some more speed, but you definitely can’t fault NASCAR for enforcing the limits, either.

Rules are rules. As long as officials apply them fairly to everyone, no one should complain.

3. Johnson’s comeback

As the laps wound down in the first stage, Johnson was in serious danger of going two laps down under green — the continuation of a nightmarish streak for his team dating back to last fall.

As it turned out, Johnson and Knaus pulled out some of the magic that made them so special over the years, salvaging a 12th-place finish on a day that initially looked ugly.

Johnson acknowledged he had to change his approach on Sunday and get back to basics.

“At the end of last year and even in Atlanta, I was trying too hard,” he said. “Just giving 100 percent and driving the car where it’s at and bringing it home is what I need to start doing.

“I have been trying to carry it, and I’ve crashed more cars in the last six months than I have really in any six-month stretch or whole year stretch. (I was) just trying to drive it 100 percent and not step over that line.”

It worked, although Johnson indicated Hendrick Motorsports is still behind — and it’s not all just because the new Camaro is in its infancy.

“There is a piece of performance that is familiar from last year, so I think we have some work to do ourselves underneath the body with the chassis and the setup of the car,” he said, referring to an area where Hendrick fell behind in 2017. “… I think the body is definitely helping the car, we’ve just got some other stuff to sort out to go along with it and kind of find the sweet spot for the car, too.”


4. Fords Real, Tho

Part of the Ford boost so far this year has resulted in improved performance for drivers like Paul Menard (ninth at Las Vegas) and Aric Almirola (10th).

Fords are 1-2-3 in the point standings (Harvick-Joey Logano-Ryan Blaney) and eight of the top 13 after the first three races.

“The strength of the Fords has been nice,” Logano said. “Heck yeah. I am excited about it.”

So…are they for real? Though Las Vegas was a good indicator the answer is yes, drivers cautioned to hold off for a few more weeks before making any firm conclusions.

“You take all six races before the (Easter) break to realize (what kind of speed a team has),” Ryan Blaney said. “You come here and it is different than Atlanta. You kind of show your strength here. You kind of see where your short track stuff adds up at Phoenix and then we go to a big two-mile (at Fontana) and you really get an idea there.

“I think when the break comes and that off-weekend comes, you really know where you stack up.”

Kyle Busch said Vegas is indicative of who will run well in the future — but only the immediate future, not the whole year. He pointed to how his team started last season as a top-10 car but eventually improved to a frontrunner by the summer.

“I don’t think it’s a huge telltale, but it’ll obviously give you an idea of who’s going to be tough up through May,” he said.

Keselowski said each race is a data point, and there are only two real data points so far.

“One data point doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “Two data points doesn’t mean everything — but it does mean something.”

5. Stinking up the show?

It didn’t seem like Sunday’s race was the greatest display of NASCAR racing that has ever existed. Clean air was a factor (it even plagued Harvick when he was in traffic) and a single car led 321 of the 400 miles in the race.

But honestly, I’m not sure what NASCAR can do about that. Sometimes a car will just hit on something and kick everyone’s butts — which seems to be the case the last two weeks.

It’s not going to last forever, though. Sure, Harvick might go out and do this again at Phoenix — no one would be surprised if that happened — but it’s not going to be like this all season.

In fact, I don’t even think Harvick is going to pull a Truex and rack up an unfathomable amount of playoff points. One or two gains in speed, and everyone else will be right there with Harvick.

Now, if Harvick is still doing this by the time Texas rolls around? Then yeah, it’s going to be a lonnnnng year for everyone else.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Atlanta race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway…

1. Veterans Day

The top eight finishers at Atlanta all have at least eight seasons in the Cup Series — a veteran-heavy scoring pylon led by the definitive expert on this old track.

Was it by chance all those experienced drivers found themselves finishing toward the front?

“There’s no coincidence,” Kevin Harvick said.

First of all, Harvick is simply better than other drivers at Atlanta. He understands exactly how to get around the bottom quickly and without abusing his tires — as demonstrated in leading a combined 66 percent of the laps in the Cup and Xfinity Series races.

“He can be on a tricycle and probably be that fast here,” said Joey Logano, who finished sixth.

But the other drivers in the top eight aren’t too shabby either, and it’s because they know how to race from the days when it wasn’t just hammer-down and go all-out — a finesse that can only come with experience.

“This is just the way it used to be when you had a lot of horsepower and you could spin the tires a lot,” Clint Bowyer said after finishing third. “It seems like you get on these tracks like we’ll be at next weekend (in Las Vegas) and it’s qualifying laps every single lap, and those kids will show back up.”

“Those kids” weren’t much of a factor on Sunday. Kyle Larson finished ninth and Chase Elliott was 10th after pit strategy (the same as the one Denny Hamlin and Logano used).

But the others in the top 10 — Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Bowyer, Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Logano and the Busch brothers — all have at least 300 Cup starts.

So despite the youthful look to the Daytona 500, it was the veterans who took over once more experience came into play.

“Talladega is in April,” Harvick said, inferring that would be the next time young drivers would dominate the running order again.

2. Fords focused

Toyota dominated the last two seasons and Chevrolet had its fearsome new Camaro body hitting the track this year, which led everyone to believe the Fords might spend 2018 playing from behind.

But then the manufacturer went out and swept the top three spots at Atlanta, taking four of the top six positions overall.

“It’s clear the Fords have an unfair advantage,” joked Hamlin, who has spent the last two years hearing all the accusations about Toyota’s edge.

Ford drivers were optimistic after their solid day, but cautiously so. Atlanta is “a unique beast” and much different from the other intermediate tracks, Logano said. Just because a driver has a good Atlanta race doesn’t mean it will translate to the other tracks.

Las Vegas “really shows where your mile-and-a-half speed is at,” he added. “Next week will be the true test to see where we’re at.”

Bowyer acknowledged he was “a little bit nervous” in the offseason after knowing the Chevrolets would be showing up with a new body and the Toyotas wouldn’t lose anything.

“But so far, so good,” he said.

3. Jimmie’s jam

What in the world? After two races, seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson is 35th in the point standings — behind even Mark Thompson and DJ Kennington, who only ran the Daytona 500. He is the lowest-ranked driver of all those who have run both Cup races so far.

That’s what happens when a driver finishes 38th and 27th in the first two weeks of the season.

So is it time to panic? Of course not. Johnson and the 48 team can win anywhere, and that’s all it will take.

Still, it has to be unsettling at the very least. Johnson didn’t run well the entire weekend and was lapped on two different occasions before spinning out and really putting his race in the craptastic category.

Another bad run at Vegas could certainly challenge the team’s morale.

4. Gunning it

It’s really quite amazing how few hiccups there have been on the pit stops so far, at least in terms of subtracting one crew member. As noted after the Clash, it doesn’t seem like much of a factor and teams are quickly adapting to the new choreography.

What has been a challenge so far? Pit guns, apparently. As reported here last October, NASCAR implemented a common pit gun for every crew this year. But as it turns out, some teams are having hiccups.

Truex crew chief Cole Pearn told NBC’s Nate Ryan and ESPN’s Bob Pockrass after the race the pit guns were “pieces of shit.” And Truex noted it certainly would be unfortunate if a faulty gun cost someone a win or a spot in the championship race.

Several teams, including Truex, Harvick and Alex Bowman appeared to have issues with them.

But is that a trend, or just a coincidence? Or are they getting blamed for pit crew members messing up?

After all, it didn’t seem like the problems were widespread.

“Mine worked, so we’re happy,” Hamlin said. “If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t be happy.”

It seems too early to judge if this is going to be an ongoing problem or not. Perhaps as the teams work through the quirks of the new gear, it won’t be as big of a deal. But if it happens again in the next few weeks and turns out to be a continuing issue, it’s going to cause some major grumblings from the drivers.

5. Rain Dance

I woke up Sunday morning absolutely convinced the race would be postponed. Even the most optimistic forecasts said there was only a 20 percent chance of getting the race started, and once the rain hit, it would sit over the track and not move until Monday afternoon.

I’ve been through plenty of rainouts before, but this one was different. Now that I’m spending my own money (money many of you gave me through Patreon to travel to races), I felt deeply disappointed and sort of sick over it.

American Airlines was asking $414 to change my flight, which was a no-go. And buying a new flight would have been in the $500 range. That meant I was going to have to go home without seeing the race after making an investment to get here.

That sucked. But even with that feeling, it’s still not the same as what many fans go through during a rainout. After all, I’m supposed to be here; this is my job. Fans who stretch the budget and spend vacation time in order to make a race and then have to leave to get back home for work, school or other obligations must feel so empty and sad when that happens.

I had a little taste of it Sunday morning, but I got lucky when the entire race unexpectedly got in, just with a two-hour delay.

If it hadn’t, at least fans at Atlanta had a “Perfect Weather Guarantee” that would have given them a ticket credit had the race been postponed and they were unable to attend.

That should be the standard at all tracks. The industry has to make it so that NASCAR’s most loyal customers don’t get burned and have nothing to show for their time and money. Because after an experience like that, who would want to come back and try it again?