By R. Boden
Whew, what a season it’s been so far. Lots of questions remaining, lots of surprises, and even a few punches thrown… and we’re only through Week 9. So, without further ado, let’s just jump right into it.
But before we hit the throttle, I’d like to give my good buddy Walker Polivka a huge shoutout and hearty THANK YOU for allowing me to run my trap on this week’s edition of Birdies and Burnouts. He does a helluva job with everything he does, and I can only hope my predictions this week hold even half the legitimacy of his.
Driver to Fade: Kevin Harvick (yes, I know- a very loaded first prediction)- Well, ok- maybe “fade” is a strong word, but the frustrations will continue. A dismal 15th place finish at the Food City Dirt Race last year gives grim hope for a newsworthy finish for the 46-year-old from Bakersfield, CA, this time around. 2022 has proven a headscratcher so far for “Happy,” his results all over the map after 8 races. He grabbed the win in Bristol in September 2020 on asphalt, but it feels like dirt (and the “modern-day tracks,” in general) hasn’t exactly proven 4’s strong suit. Holding onto 9th in the standings right now, I look for Harvick and Co. to lose a little more ground tonight.
Dark Horse: Daniel Suarez- Pay attention to the No. 99 Chevrolet tonight. He’s got 3 Top 10 finishes so far, and 2 Top 15’s. Not so sure he’s going to find himself in Victory Lane this time around, but I look for the Suarez team to keep things interesting tonight. He finished 4th here one year ago, where he stayed relevant for the entire race amongst a pretty crowded Top 10 field. Short track racing, in general, hasn’t proven very friendly to the Trackhouse Racing team as of late, but this race feels like an excellent starting point for picking up where he left off just a year ago.
Top 10: Ryan Blaney- Blaney held the unfortunate title of finishing dead last at this very race two years ago, but don’t let that fool you. An eight-place finish here last year gives me reason to believe another Top 10 is heading his way this week. Why? Check out his finishes this season- 5 out of 8 Top 10’s so far. Another reason? He’s pretty decent on short tracks, in general, having finished 4th at Martinsville last week, and 7th the week before at Richmond. Since driving for Team Penske, he’s mustered 5 Top 10 finishes at the track already, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it were he, indeed, who takes the checkered flag Sunday night. He’s been sniffing Victory Lane all season…he’s due.
Winner: (Sigh) Joey Logano- I feel a repeat coming on. As Stewart Stumpf of Frontstretch reports, Logano posted some of the fastest Practice laps in the Camping World Truck Series and finished 6th in last night’s Truck race. For me, it isn’t hard to believe those same results may be replicated in the Cup Series tonight. Logano’s early success on dirt is kind of surprising, given his minimal resumé on dirt (although, is a 1st place finish here last year really a minimal resumé?). Yet, he’s another Penske guy who seems to find success on short tracks. Last week, he nearly took home the Grandfather clock at Martinsville. This week, don’t be surprised if it is he who finds that golden Easter egg. Logano for the win.