Kyle Busch. Chase Elliott. Kyle Busch. Chase Elliott. Kyle Busch. Chase Elliott.
Got it? Good. And get used to it.
NASCAR’s return over the last 12 days has been dominated by the 2019 Cup Series champion and NASCAR’s most popular driver. While Elliott’s middle finger to Busch after Busch turned him into the inside wall while racing for second at Darlington on May 20 was the biggest moment of NASCAR’s comeback, it was also simply the start of the Busch and Elliott theme.
The next day, Busch finished a dramatic second in a thrilling finish to the rain-delayed Xfinity Series race. Sunday, Elliott looked headed to a sure Coca-Cola 600 win before a late pit call ruined those chances. He ultimately finished second. Busch was fourth.
Busch won Monday’s Xfinity Series race at Charlotte for his 97th win in the series. A day later, Elliott beat Busch to the finish line in the Truck Series, breaking a seven-start win streak for Busch that lasted over a calendar year and netting $100,000 in charitable donations in the process. Elliott also did Busch’s trademark bow after he got the checkered flag.
Oh, and Elliott won Thursday night’s Charlotte Cup Series sequel too. We told you this was domination.
And this is domination that is unlikely to end soon. Busch is the best driver in NASCAR and at the top of his game. Elliott has improved every year in the Cup Series and Hendrick Motorsports has made a massive leap in 2020. This could be the year that Elliott moves past the round of eight in the playoffs.
If he does, he’ll likely be in the final four with Busch.
It’s too early to call Busch and Elliott rivals, but they’ve at least started down that path on the track. A rivalry needs to be two-sided, and while Busch has the Cup Series titles that Elliott doesn’t, Elliott’s getting the best of Busch recently. If that continues, then who knows where this could go?
It could be pretty fun too. Elliott has legions of vocal fans and in addition to being the best driver in the series, Busch is also the most polarizing. If NASCAR wanted to create a rivalry out of thin air, Busch vs. Elliott might be its first choice.
So far, this is pretty organic. And that’s great because this has been pretty fun.
Less downforce = more fun
The six combined Cup Series and Xfinity Series races over the past 12 days further confirmed that the Xfinity Series produces more entertaining racing on intermediate tracks than the Cup Series does despite the bigger equipment disparities throughout the field.
Why? The answer is pretty simple. The Xfinity Series cars have far less downforce than the Cup Series cars do and their composite bodies mean Xfinity cars are less affected by minor damage than Cup cars are.
Sure, Cup Series restarts are still visually striking. There were moments of three- and four-wide racing on Sunday and Wednesday. But those moments happen because Cup drivers aren’t seemingly on the edge of control in the laps after restarts.
And even when they are, the downforce on the cars can bail them out. Just look at this save Aric Almirola was able to make on Wednesday night. There’s no way he keeps his car from spinning out if there isn’t all that downforce.
Watching the Xfinity Series drivers wrestle their cars around Darlington Raceway on Thursday was a far different visual experience than the Cup Series race the night before. You could see how hard drivers were having to work to balance “going fast” with “not crashing.” Being able to see drivers straddle that line is a large part of what makes racing so much fun to watch.
Erik Jones moves up 8 spots in 4 races
Erik Jones was 21st in the points standings after the first four races of the season. He’s now 13th in the standings after Thursday night’s race despite finishing 26th after a penalty for pitting outside his pit box.
That’s the biggest jump of anyone in the top 20 in the standings over the past 12 days. Conversely, Jimmie Johnson has had the biggest drop. Johnson was fifth after the first four races. Following a crash in the first Darlington race and a disqualification on Sunday night, Johnson is now 16th in the standings.
Kevin Harvick’s points lead over other competitors still looks a lot like it did through four races. Harvick was 46 points ahead of Brad Keselowski in 10th after Phoenix. Following Thursday night, he’s 108 points ahead of Kurt Busch.
Harvick’s gap to 15th after Phoenix was 68 points. After eight races, it’s 141. The consistency continues to 20th, where Harvick now leads Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by 179 points. Harvick was 87 points ahead of Austin Dillon in that same spot after Phoenix.
Christopher Bell still behind Kyle Larson
As you all know, Kyle Larson was fired from his ride at Chip Ganassi Racing during the hiatus for saying a racial slur during a virtual race. And despite racing just four races in 2020, Larson is still ahead of five drivers who have started all eight Cup Series races this season.
The most notable of the five is Christopher Bell. The Xfinity Series standout has struggled in his adjustment to the Cup Series at Leavine Family Racing. Bell has 111 points, or 10 fewer than Larson does through four races.
The four other drivers with fewer points than Larson are Corey LaJoie, Ryan Preece, Brennan Poole and Quin Houff.
Four full-time drivers have no top 10s
Thirty drivers running for Cup Series points have started all eight races in 2020. Just four of those drivers haven’t scored a top 10.
The best of the non-top 10 bunch is Michael McDowell. He’s 25th in the points standings, though he’s just four points ahead of Larson himself. The other three are Preece, Poole and Houff.
Crazily enough, Houff is behind David Ragan in the standings too. Ragan ran the Daytona 500 and scored 33 points. Houff has 30 points through eight races.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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