1. Does Brad get enough love?
Is it possible Brad Keselowski has been underrated all this time?
Keselowski is certainly a star driver and a regular contender, so it’s not like he gets ignored. But when people discuss the best of the best — the absolute top drivers in NASCAR — Keselowski feels overlooked.
For example: While it’s not a hot take to say “Brad Keselowski is a great driver,” it seems like you’d get more pushback if you said, “Brad Keselowski is the best driver in NASCAR.”
But why is that? People would probably say Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were among the best, or even Kyle Larson when it comes to pure talent.
Keselowski isn’t always mentioned in the same breath. Penske teammate Joey Logano, the defending Cup Series champ, gets more recognition lately than Keselowski does.
Maybe it’s time to change how we view Keselowski after he led 446 laps (!!) on Sunday at Martinsville.
After all, this wasn’t a one-off performance. Keselowski has now won five of the last 18 Cup races dating back to the Southern 500 — more than anyone else during that time.
This is a 35-year-old who can win on superspeedways and intermediates and short tracks — and every size oval in between. His combination of smarts, talent and aggression seems to consistently allow him to run up front.
I’m not saying he’s the best — Kyle Busch has a pretty firm grip on that label at the moment — but I also don’t think Keselowski is that far behind.
2. Straight as the aero
This is getting to be an unpleasant topic, and I really don’t want to dwell on it much because it seems repetitive. But Martinsville was more evidence the new aero package may have had impacts beyond just the intermediate tracks — and in a negative way for short tracks.
Keselowski had a great day, but it seemed like Chase Elliott actually had a faster car when he passed Keselowski under green. Once Keselowski got the lead back in the pits, however, Elliott was never able to pass him again.
“I think the stats maybe look a little bit more dominant than I think it really was,” Keselowski said. “I thought Chase was probably the best car most of the day today, and he passed me there with 150 or so to go. I thought that might be the end of our day.
“(My) pit crew did an excellent job gaining or retaining our track position all day, which is critical here at this racetrack. … That was so, so key to being able to win today, because I think Chase, if he’d have been out front that run, he would have drove away from the field with what I saw from his car.”
Considering this is a short track we’re talking about, that is…not great! Of all places, you’d think Martinsville would be immune to aero issues. But as Denny Hamlin noted, the huge spoilers this year make traffic “just a little bit tougher” than before — and perhaps that’s all it took to put a damper on passing.
Again, I don’t want to harp on this because there’s clearly more to be determined this season. But if the short track package was enough to hurt the Phoenix race and perhaps even affect Martinsville, what’s it going to do to Bristol, Richmond and New Hampshire?
3. Call it maybe?
With David Hoots out of the control tower, NASCAR has new direction when it comes to calling races — including determining what is a caution and what isn’t.
But Martinsville showed the circumstances for throwing a yellow flag still aren’t clearly defined.
During a long, green-flag run, William Byron had contact with Ty Dillon that resulted in Byron doing a half spin. Byron saved it, gathered the car back up after momentarily slowing and kept rolling.
NASCAR called a caution, labeling it as “#13, 24 Incident Turn 4” on the official race report.
Shortly after the ensuing restart, Erik Jones got damage that ended up giving him a flat tire and a torn fender. He limped around the track, shedding potential debris, while unable to get down to pit road. He finally did — under green — and there was no caution called.
The difference between those two moments seemed slight. If either was caution-worthy, it might have been Jones over Byron. But the Jones incident didn’t really go with the flow of the race, while Byron’s half-spin came at a time when a caution was helpful to reset the field.
So when is a caution necessary and when is it not? Is it a 100-percent safety-related decision? Does the flow of the race help determine when a yellow comes out? I don’t know those answers.
It would be nice to hear NASCAR lay out why a flag is thrown in some instances and why it is not in others. Perhaps it could even spell out what the tower deems caution-worthy for future races, because fans and competitors alike would benefit from that kind of transparency.
4. Panic time?
Chase Elliott finished second and could have won the race on Sunday.
His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson, was 24th — two laps down.
What gives? While it’s true Johnson hasn’t been his former self at Martinsville for awhile — aside from his 2016 win, he hasn’t finished better than ninth since 2014 — you wouldn’t have expected him to be so far off.
Surely there’s an explanation for this and the team has more answers, but as an outsider, it’s baffling. Johnson is still in amazing physical shape — he’s training for the Boston Marathon! — and presumably still has great hand-eye coordination. What’s lacking is the proper feel he needs from the car.
It’s one thing for Hendrick to miss it as a team at intermediate tracks. But at Martinsville, which should be an equalizer? And on a day when Elliott was performing so well? Seeing Johnson struggle like that is just strange, and it raises far more questions than answers.
5. More short tracks
Even though the race was tame by Martinsville standards (Sunday was only the fourth time since 1997 there were less than eight caution flags), it was still a better race than at most intermediate tracks.
Keselowski, despite being dominant, never really drove away. And there was always some battle going on somewhere on the track — as opposed to the field getting strung out and single-file.
Expectations color everything in NASCAR these days, and Martinsville definitely has very high expectations based on its history (especially in the fall races). This may not have lived up to the hype, but it was still a fine race.
So yeah. Let’s keep beating the “More Short Tracks” drum. Because a short track race on a bad day is still pretty decent.