First, of course, there was Michael McDowell, which gobsmacked us all. It’s a pretty sure bet your NASCAR fantasy team didn’t have the 0-for-357 driver hauling home that big ol’ hood ornament of a trophy from the Daytona 500.
Then came Christopher Bell, who begat William Byron, who begat Kyle Larson, the sport’s great redemption story. He was followed by Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, then Joey Logano.
Those are the seven drivers who have won the seven different NASCAR races this season, going into the weekend’s race at Martinsville.
With the GEICO 500 looming on the horizon at Talladega Superspeedway on April 25, it’s worth some reflection over how this kinda-sorta-back-to-normal season has unfolded.
Not among the winning seven — and uncharacteristically AWOL from victory lane since last September — is Brad Keselowski. He’s the winningest active driver at Talladega, with five victories, and for my money one of the top 10 or 15 best 'Dega racers.
Zooming with reporters this week, Keselowski addressed the seven-for-seven situation.
“To put my finger on the extreme parity this season, it’s hard to put it on one thing,” Keselowski said. “I mean, if you had a deck of cards and you pulled from it, you’d probably have the same odds as what it is in parity in NASCAR that sometimes that’s just the way it works out. You pull all kings or you pull all queens or whatever it might be, so I think some of it is random.”
Should the trend continue, the potential of having more winners than playoff spots will become the breathless chatter for the TV broadcasters and their shameless hyping of the sport and their insistence on creating drama where no drama exists.
Ohmigosh what if we had 18 winners and just 16 spots, and who might not make the field, so they better win enough stage points to qualify, so don’t go away and tune in next week.
Well, invariably, a Denny Hamlin or a Kevin Harvick or some gallant knight will gallop in, win three out of the next six and they will have to find something else to hype.
In the meantime, though, you gotta admit it’s been an interesting cast.
McDowell typically runs a little better at Daytona and Talladega than elsewhere, so it wasn’t a total surprise he was in contention. When Logano wrecked teammate Keselowski — things are still apparently about 32 degrees and cloudy with that relationship — McDowell was in place to vulture the victory.
Bell and Byron are a couple of the youngsters we’ve been waiting to see mature, and they picked off surprising wins at the Daytona road course and Homestead-Miami. Larson, back from the year’s hiatus after his racially insensitive remarks during a video-game race, won at Las Vegas. His Hendrick Chevy has arguably been the best car all season.
Truex won at Phoenix, followed by Blaney in Atlanta, then Logano on the dirt at Bristol when Hamlin refused to spin Logano out, a temptation few could have resisted.
Because what happens on social media seems to be equally important to NASCAR as what happens on the track, Instagram photos of Logano whacking away at hedges with the sword-shaped Bristol trophy soon emerged.
Photos of Keselowski throwing darts at a photo of Logano still have not been seen.
Keselowski did opine that the parity can be charged to numerous things, like adapting to a new body style and the different styles of track (one superspeedway, four intermediates, a dirt track and road course) on the schedule.
He also rightfully suggests that while victory lane may suggest parity, overall performance doesn’t. After all, of the 35 top 5s this year, 23 belong to Hamlin, Logano, Keselowski, Truex, Larson, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch — the Usual Suspects and with seven championships among them.
But as Keselowski said — and this takes us back to Daytona — “There’s just some all-out luck factors as well.”
Long-time sportswriter Mark McCarter is a special contributor to The Anniston Star. Contact him at email@example.com.