Do the NASCAR playoffs do anything for you? Maybe I am too old-fashioned, but having a one-race, winner-take-all race just doesn't do it for me. The concept to have more "Game 7 moments" in the sport was to generate more interest. But television ratings are only big for big races, not for the playoffs. It gives the media things to talk about, but does the average fan really care about the playoffs in NASCAR?
In today's NASCAR, money rules over almost everything else. But there is one quasi-old-school team out there which used to call Stuart, Va., home for many years - Wood Brothers Racing. Today, they are part of the same NASCAR community, which has probably helped them develop the partnership with Team Penske that has been critical to their recent survival.
Now comes word that the driver who brought the sponsorship is planning to retire from NASCAR racing. It was time to replace Paul Menard, and my cynical side is glad that we didn't get time to speculate. Instead, at the same time the famous Wood Brothers Racing team announced that Menard was retiring, we got word that rising star Matt DiBenedetto was getting the full-time ride for the 2020 season.
I was so happy. It's a good thing this didn't happen during the NASCAR race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, because I would have gone full Big Bill Venturini on the Wood Brothers (If you don't follow the ARCA Menards Series, you will have to look that one up). DiBenedetto can't bring a Menard-sized sponsor to the team. All he can bring is talent, and lots of it.
Next year, he'll get to drive the same equipment as Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney while sporting that legendary No. 21 on the side of his car. This might have been the best news this side of Alex Bowman getting a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ride with Hendrick Motorsports. Thank you to Wood Brothers Racing for giving Guido a chance to show the entire racing world just how good of a driver can be at this level.
He may have gone unnoticed during most of the season due to a winless campaign for Stewart-Haas Racing. He may not be a future NASCAR Hall of Famer. But this year, in a time where driver access has proved difficult for fans, you have to appreciate how fan-friendly Clint Bowyer is.
This guy not only has the skill on the racetrack but also understands how a simple autograph or picture can make a fan's weekend memorable. A couple weeks ago during a rain delay at Darlington Raceway, he went up into the stands to interview a die-hard NASCAR fan on the television broadcast.
Watching him interact with the fans at the track, he isn't one of those guys who puts on the "second face" when the cameras are running. He is always the Clint Bowyer we see on television, even when the cameras aren't running. While I will still hold back cheering in the press box or in the media center, you might see me pumping a fist when he wins as I am walking down pit lane at a race. How can you not appreciate what Bowyer has done?
Last week was one of the easier races to handicap in NASCAR this year. Getting three guys in the top five was actually disappointing because Busch was fast enough to make it four. Now, the NASCAR circus heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the land of Elvis impersonators, bad comics and magic acts (I highly recommend the Criss Angel Mindfreak Show).
The difference in weather between the spring event during the day versus the September race under the lights makes handicapping much harder. The usual cast of characters lead the statistics with Martin Truex Jr. scoring the most points here over the last five races. Keselowski and Logano are the only other two drivers to top 200 points over that period.
Only five active drivers have posted three or more top-five finishes in the last five Vegas races. Having this race as the first race of the playoffs can also change driver strategy to combine with a daytime temperature in the triple digits. Good luck with your fantasy racing picks this week.
Win: Kyle Busch - It's been 10 years since he won on his home track.
Place: Harvick - On a nice roll and my pick to win the championship.
Show: Truex Jr. - Always has lady luck on his side in Vegas.
Long Shot: Blaney (25-to-1) Bad race here in the spring but steady in his other starts.