By: Ashley McCubbin
As preparations kicked off for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series campaign, it was billed as the best season ever by FOX Sports. Now halfway to the playoffs, they may have been right in their predictions.
Although other years have seen a couple drivers and teams stand above the rest, the competition seems to be wide open with 10 different winners in 13 events.
“I think it just shows the amount of competition in the Cup Series, especially this year for sure. We’ve had a bunch of different winners,” Ryan Blaney told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “Like you said, three of those guys that I’d say were probably the top three guys last year haven’t won yet, and you know they’re gonna win eventually here, so I think it just shows how many teams can go out and do it on any given week. The drivers are really good. Obviously, the 19 and Truex has been really fast here lately and he’s kind of separated himself from the field with three wins already, but I just think it’s good for the sport when you have more teams winning.
“I’m selfish and I want to win every single race, but it’s good for the sport to have more people winning, but you know those guys are gonna win so it just makes the competition that much tougher when you have more cars that can compete for wins every week. You don’t have just seven or eight guys who can do it. You have potentially 20 people who can go out there and win every single weekend.”
The variety and being at the halfway point creates new questions and concerns through the field about playoff chances.
“I would say the amount of winners,” Chase Briscoe expressed. “The amount of winners that we’ve had it’s gonna be challenging to make the playoffs. Obviously, we’re still quite a ways off that. If we can get six or seven weeks in a row here where we’re running in the top 10 and getting stage points it’s still not impossible, I don’t think, to get to that cutoff spot, but with how many winners there is it’s very well possible that we have over 16 winners when we get to that point, so it’s probably gonna take a win, but I would say that’s for sure been the biggest surprise of this season is how many winners we’ve had.”
in what Corey Lajoie called “one of the most competitive seasons in NASCAR of all time,” he feels the excitement is only going to build as we move forward.
“I’m excited to see how that boils down by the end of the regular season because having Daytona, there are a couple of different factors into that,” he explained. “All the teams have a couple extra speedway cars left and there are only two more speedway races left and one can punch your ticket into the Playoff, potentially. I think everybody is going to be tightening the belts up and putting it in there and trying to contend for a win at Daytona and then that fall race at Talladega will be just tighten the belts and throw caution to the wind and bring home the steering wheel.
“So, there is a lot of stuff to look forward to if you’re a race fan as we continue to see the numbers on TV grow or stay consistent. Those are really optimistic numbers. I do think there’s still room to grow. There’s a lot of things to be excited about as both a competitor in the sport as well as a fan, right now.”
While the variety of winners is surprising and exciting to most, it hasn’t caught Tyler Reddick off-guard that much.
“I try to prepare the best that I can for the year that we have ahead when we’re in the off season,” Reddick commented. “So far, what I’ve seen out of our competition hasn’t really been a surprise. I really think that the guys you have seen win are all very capable of doing that. So, from that aspect, I guess I haven’t been too surprised.”
Instead, the Richard Childress Racing driver was more caught off-guard in scoring five finishes outside the top-20 in the first six races.
“Other than that, what I’ve seen out of our competition has been what I expected,” he added. “You always know when you go to the (Daytona) 500, you have a chance of somebody that shouldn’t necessarily be competing up front and battling for wins all year winning that race. So, you always keep that in the back of your mind before the year starts, that these speedway races are always very interesting and can play out a million ways.”
Performance has also been on the mind of his fellow sophomore Christopher Bell, who surprised himself with his 750 package performances.
“I think if you look at my races from last year in the 95 car, the 750 package was one of my, not one of, but my worst races last year. The 550 package was our strength,” he commented. “This year, it’s kind of flipped. The 550 package has been a little bit of a struggle and the 750 package has been really good. That’s been a little bit surprising, but definitely a pleasant surprise.”
The performance is nice, and so are the variety of winners – but it’s all only been made sweeter by one thing, the return of cheers in the grandstands.
“I’d say maybe the pleasantly surprising thing about the season is how many fans we were able to have back at the racetrack. That’s been pleasantly surprising and how many tracks have opened up,” Blaney commented. “Atlanta announced I think last week their full capacity is opening up when we go back and I feel like tracks are coming around to that like Darlington. We were able to have more family in the infield and some fans in the stands, so that has been pleasantly surprising to me just how quickly everything is getting better it seems like as far as healthy and everyone I think things getting safer for people to be around each other and coming to the racetrack again, so that has been nice for sure.
“You never know when that day is gonna come, thinking last year like, ‘When is the day gonna come where we can get people back coming around and it’s safe enough where everyone is healthy enough to do this and open up stuff and now it seems like it’s finally getting there, so that’s been pleasantly surprising to me that it’s happened this quickly.”