by Julian Spivey
NASCAR can be weird sometimes (honestly, maybe most of the time). The 2020 Cup season was dominated by Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin with those three drivers combining to win 58 percent of the season's races. There was little parity in the 2020 season. Through the first 10 races of the 2021 Cup Season it's been nothing but parity. Nine different drivers have won races this season, making things tight aleady for the 16-driver playoff field with 15 races remaining before the playoffs. There's a potential we could be looking at the first season in which more than 16 drivers when races and a race-winner (which is supposed to be an automatic playoff qualification) would still miss the playoffs. I don't expect that to happen, but some of the biggest names within the sport haven't won yet, including the three winningest drivers last season: Harvick, Hamlin and Elliott. Kyle Busch also hasn't won a race either and he's won at least one race every year of his career (16 seasons). I'd expect at least those four drivers win a race before the postseason begins, which would allow for three positions on points.
Here are my top 10 power rankings for drivers at this point in the season ...
Note: Michael McDowell and Alex Bowman have both won a race this season, but didn't make my cut.
10. Christopher Bell
I predicted Christopher Bell would win his first Cup Series race this season in his first for Joe Gibbs Racing, but I didn't think it would come at the Daytona Roval course in the second weekend of the season. Bell is currently 10th in the point standings and has finished in the top-10 in half of the races thus far this season.
9. Chase Elliott
I didn't expect for the defending champion Chase Elliott to be this far back this far into the season, even if the bulk of his 2020 success came in the playoffs, including three of his five wins on the season. Elliott is winless after the first 10 races, which makes him the only driver at Hendrick Motorsports without a victory thus far. He's eighth in the point standings with three top fives.
8. Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick led the Cup Series last season with nine victories and like the defending champ Chase Elliott finds himself winless past the quarter mark of the season. There has been a noticeable drop in quality at Stewart-Haas Racing this season, but Harvick is still seventh in the points (second highest of all winless drivers) with three top fives and seven top-10s. What's most concerning about Harvick's first 10 races is he's only led 29 laps thus far when he led more than 1,500 last season and has led at least 850 laps every season since 2013.
7. Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson going to Hendrick Motorsports made him a popular pick for the 2021 Champion Four drivers, which I thought was a little much given he hadn't competed in the series for almost a full year. Thus far he's kind of been in between what I'd consider a title threat and where I expected him to be. He won the fourth race of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which was quite a bit quicker than I expected. He's ninth in the point standings with four top five finishes.
6. Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney is consistent. He's won exactly one race every season since his first win in 2017. He got his win out of the way early this year doing so at Atlanta Motor Speedway. To be a championship contender he's going to need to find a way to rack up a few more checkered flags. Blaney only has one other top five thus far besides that win and has five top-10s.
5. Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski is the most recent winner on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit when he won his sixth career race at Talladega Superspeedway last week, which tied him with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the second most ever at the biggest oval in the sport. He's currently sixth in the point standings. The weird thing about his season is he's only finished in the top-10 four times, but all four times have been top fives.
4. William Byron
William Byron has quietly been one of the most consistent finishers in the Cup Series this season. He won his second career Cup Series race in the third race of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway and is fourth in the point standings with eight top-10s.
3. Joey Logano
It's in no way surprising that Joey Logano is a race winner in the first 10 races of the 2021 season, but doing so at the first NASCAR Cup Series dirt race in more than half a century and being fairly dominant at it was a bit surprising. Overall, Logano is third in the point standings with four top fives and six top-10s.
2. Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. is the only Cup Series driver with multiple wins thus far in 2021. He won at Phoenix Raceway and Martinsville Speedway, where he's become quite the recurring winner. His two wins have helped him to second overall in the point standings. He has four top fives and six top-10s.
1. Denny Hamlin
It might seem ridiculous to have a driver who hasn't won a race yet this season at the top spot in my power rankings after 10 races, but Denny Hamlin has been the most consistent driver in the sport and his numbers tell me the win and likely wins are going to come. Even without a victory Hamlin is the overall points leader and has accumulated almost 100 more points than his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. in second place. He also had twice as many top fives as anybody else with eight in 10 races. Hamlin has already led 737 laps this season and led 1,083 last season when he won seven races. It's franly quite amazing Hamlin has been this dominant without winning, but again it's just a matter of time.
by Julian Spivey
On Friday, April 2, Major League Baseball made the decision to strip the 2021 MLB All Star Game, to be held in mid-July, from the city of Atlanta, Ga. following new election laws passed by the state’s Republican-led politicians that make it harder to vote in the state’s urban areas. The league has not yet announced a new location for the game billed as “the Midsummer Classic.”
It’s at this point that I should come clean and say I’m a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan, whose home stadium Truist Park is where the 2021 All Star game was supposed to take place. However, I believe the decision by MLB to remove the game from Georgia to be the right decision, even if the game was to be a celebration of one of my heroes Henry Aaron, who died earlier this year and played many years for the Braves in Atlanta.
We’ve seen this type of thing before from professional sports leagues. The 2017 NBA All Star game was supposed to be held in Charlotte, N.C., but after that state passed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, which was anti-transgender, the NBA moved the game from Charlotte to New Orleans, La. as a result.
Some wonder if such decisions by sports leagues or other businesses have an impact at all on a city or state, other than costing them money in tourism and merchandising, but author and journalist Tommy Tomlinson, who lives in Charlotte, wrote a Twitter thread explaining how the NBA’s boycott of the Charlotte All Star game led to change in North Carolina. He stated the boycott, “kinda worked. At least indirectly.” It hurt the city and state economically when the NCAA followed suit and pulled March Madness games from the state, but the main effect was on Gov. Pat McCrory, who was popular in the state and Charlotte (where he had served as mayor for 14 years). In 2016, despite the state of North Carolina going for Republican candidate Donald Trump in the Presidential election, McCory lost his reelection bid to Democratic candidate Roy Cooper. Cooper signed a bill that repealed some of the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act and the NBA brought the All Star game back to the city in 2019. So, who’s to say what impact MLB boycotting Atlanta for the All Star Game will have on the future of Georgia? Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is digging his heels in and fellow Republicans within the state and outside of the state are calling for a boycott of Major League Baseball (who’s taking part in ‘Cancel Culture’ now?), but we’ll see if the voter suppression laws in Georgia leading to boycotts of the state will lead its voters to unseat those in charge within their state.
Many are erroneously saying this entire thing is over forcing potential voters to show identification before being able to vote, but there’s much more to it as the New York Times explains HERE.
I hate that the All Star Game in Atlanta had to be used by the league in an attempt to do some good. As a Braves fan I wanted to see the game in my favorite team’s ballpark. I wanted to see some of my favorite players show off in their home ballpark on one of the game’s biggest and brightest stages and I especially wanted to see a tribute to Henry Aaron in a city he did so much for (MLB has said the Aaron tribute will still take place wherever the game lands). But, make no mistake, the league had to take a stand here. Voting rights are far more important than an exhibition baseball game and if the league can do something that may one day have a positive impact on voting rights in Georgia or the country in general, as this is certainly a warning to other states to watch what you do or you might be next.
I understand fans are going to be upset by this, even if the league made the right moralistic decision, but the incredibly tone-deaf response from the Braves, again my favorite team, is what truly pissed me off the most on Friday. The Braves organization should’ve backed the league’s decision and been understanding the league was trying to do the right thing, but instead they played the woe is me, we’ve been wronged and this is going to have a terrible impact on us card.
The Braves organization had a chance to stand up against Gov. Kemp and stand with the league and most importantly the disenfranchised voters (which are predominantly minorities) being affected by some of the most disgusting voting laws since the days of Jim Crow (seriously a misdemeanor offense for handing a bottle of water to someone standing in line to vote is beyond cruel), but they whiffed harder than the batters in the team’s lineup did against Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler the next day.