CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For the second consecutive year, the final day of the Sprint Cup Media Tour centered around a Chase.
For the second consecutive year, it was the biggest story of a typically bland week marked by the incessant regurgitation of smiley-faced clichés and platitudes about an upcoming season.
For the second consecutive year, everyone knew the news was coming – though in this case, the timing wasn’t certain.
Yet it couldn’t have been better.
Chase Elliott, the rising star and scion of an illustrious stock-car racing family, was named Thursday to supplant Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet next season.
His father, who still is the most famous member of the family, will be inducted Friday into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, honoring the Dickensian legend of “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.”
The salute to the immensely appealing Bill Elliott (voted a 13-time most popular driver) inextricably will be linked to the coming-out party for Chase Elliott, the 2014 Xfinity Series champion who seems as polished at 19 as his media-shy father ever was.
In the rich annals of NASCAR’s knack for enjoying the opportune – Richard Petty notching his 200th victory with President Ronald Reagan in attendance, Dale Earnhardt Jr. triumphing at Daytona International Speedway in the first race after his father’s death there, Gordon winning the debut of NASCAR at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – this qualifies as another serendipitous moment.
After a week of hand-wringing since Gordon’s retirement announcement about how and where the next generation might emerge in the wake of a superstar’s departure, here was the answer.
Elliott’s ascendance to Gordon’s ride was far from stunning. He has been under contract to Hendrick Motorsports since 2011, and even before he made his NASCAR national series debut in 2013, Rick Hendrick said he already was confident enough to put Elliott in a Sprint Cup car.
His breakthrough 2014 season – becoming the youngest champion in NASCAR history while winning three times as a rookie in the No. 9 Chevrolet fielded by Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports – made it a lead-pipe cinch that he was ticketed for a first-tier ride with Hendrick.
But the rollout of Elliott’s promotion – and whether he’d be tabbed to replace Gordon (Hendrick could have waited another season and tried to maneuver into picking off another star) – wasn’t certain.
Now it makes perfect sense – particularly for NASCAR, which could use a feel-good story after an offseason blemished by a few salacious headlines.
Last year, NASCAR closed the Media Tour with the unveiling of its new Chase for the Sprint Cup format. While the its debut eventually was met by a thrilling finish in the 2014 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the revamping of the Chase lingered as a polarizing storyline.
It’s hard to make the case, though, that Elliott’s news wasn’t overwhelmingly positive, if not universally well-received (aside from the few remaining boo-birds who still are living to ridicule and taunt anything involving Gordon since the four-time series champion burst onto the scene 20 years ago).
For the second consecutive year, a Chase is the Media Tour’s indelible memory.
But this time, the rewards will be reaped much more quickly for NASCAR.
For the fifth time in 10 rounds of the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross season, the three riders at the top of the championship standings shared a podium and while those points tell one story, the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Detroit tell a slightly different tale.
Chase Sexton has been all but perfect during the past 45 days with podium finishes in each of his heats and Triple Crown features. His only stumble during this period was a 10th-place finish in the Indianapolis Main. Last week, Sexton was perfect with wins in both his heat and the feature, although he needed a little help from an Aaron Plessinger mistake to take the top spot on the podium at the end of the night.
Cooper Webb finished fifth at Houston and was beginning to worry ever so slightly about his position in the points. Prior to the race in Tampa, he told NBC Sports that it was time to win and like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield fence, Webb went out and captured it. Following that race, Webb has swept the podium and earned the red plate two weeks ago in Indianapolis. At Detroit, he added two more points on Eli Tomac as the season begins to wind down.
Tomac struggled with a stiff neck at Indianapolis and after a modest third-place showing in Detroit, he revealed he was still suffering a little. Webb and Sexton have been able to close the gap on Tomac in the past 45 days, but one of the main reasons he is so close in the points was a pair of wins that started the year. Seattle is going to be important for the defending champion because Tomac cannot afford to lose any more momentum with seven rounds remaining.
It appeared Jason Anderson was turning things around. He earned his fifth heat win at Detroit, which was also his sixth consecutive race (including features) in which he scored a top-five. A fall in the Detroit Main dropped him a lap off the pace and sent him home with a season-worst finish of ninth, causing a ripple effect in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings.
Justin Barcia was a huge part of the show last week in Detroit. He swapped positions with both Webb and Tomac in the middle stage of the race, which allowed Sexton to close the gap. Barcia finished fourth in that race to earn his third consecutive top-five. He’s been outside the top 10 only once in the first 10 rounds.
Adam Cianciarulo had a great start to the Main. He led a couple of laps before losing a lap and slipping back to eighth in the final rundown. That run was strong enough to elevate him three positions in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Detroit.
The NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings look at the past 90 days in the 250 class in order to have a balanced comparison between the East and West divisions and Hunter Lawrence has been all but perfect this year. At Detroit, he earned his fifth win of the season and kept alive a streak of podium finishes in six rounds. He tied his brother Jett Lawrence with 10 250 wins one week before the West riders take to the track for back-to-back races at Seattle, Washington and Glendale, Arizona.
The Lawrence brothers are dominating the points in each of their respective divisions, which means the remainder of the field is battling to be best in class.
In the East, that rider is Nate Thrasher, who beat Hunter in a head-to-head matchup in their heat only to finish second in the main when the majority of points were awarded. Thrasher seems to have accepted his position in the championship standings, but that doesn’t mean he won’t keep trying for wins.
Haiden Deegan showed a lot of aggression in his heat last week. He threw a couple of block passes at his teammate Jordon Smith and set up a series of events that kept Smith from making the big show while Deegan settled into second in the preliminary. Deegan was unconcerned about how he raced his teammate and would not let a little controversy keep him from celebrating his second career podium in Detroit.
Jeremy Martin just keeps clicking off solid results. He won his heat last week by making a pass on Deegan and Smith while they were in the heat of their battle. Martin finished fourth in the Main, which means he continues to have only one finish worse than sixth in any of the features or mains.
Smith fell one position in the points standings, but the damage was even worse in SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Detroit. Crash damage in his heat contributed to a last-place finish in that race, for which he earned minimal points. He was not able to advance from the Last Chance Qualifier after stalling his bike in heavy traffic.
Hunter Lawrence – E
[5 Main, 5 Heat wins]
Jett Lawrence – W
[3 Main, 3 Heat wins]
Nate Thrasher – E
[1 Main, 3 Heat wins]
Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat win]
Haiden Deegan – E
[1 Heat win]
Jeremy Martin – E
[2 Heat wins]
Jordon Smith – E
[3 Heat Wins]
Levi Kitchen – W
Mitchell Oldenburg – W
RJ Hampshire – W
[4 Heat wins]
Max Anstie – E
Tom Vialle – E
Max Vohland – W
Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat win]
Chris Blose – E
Chance Hymas – E
Enzo Lopes – W
Michael Mosiman – E
Pierce Brown – W
Phil Nicoletti – W
* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days for the 450 class and last 90 days for 250s (because of the split nature of their season).