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Melillo’s Mind – It’s way too early to judge (Post-Atlanta Recap)

There were many headlines leaving the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway this past weekend.

The new Ford Mustang took home it’s first victory of the 2019season via Brad Keselowski and Penske Racing.

The new Aero package debuted in a limited variation for the first time this season with what seemed to be mostly-positive reviews.

Hendrick Motorsports had a rough showing, with their best finish coming from Alex Bowman finishing in 15th. It was the first time since 2010 that Hendrick Motorsports failed to place a car inside the top-10.

The headlines tell the story of the race weekend, but it doesn’t tell the story of the season ahead. In my opinion, it’s still way too early to tell how this 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is going to play out.


Kevin Harvick leads a pack of cars around Atlanta Motor Speedway in the 2019 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. Photo: Kyle Stephens | The Racing Experts


Keselowski takes the new Ford Mustang to Victory Lane

The new Ford Mustang sure did look fast at Atlanta, leading 178 of the 325 laps run on Sunday between six drivers.

Aric Almirola started on the pole, Kevin Harvick won Stage 2, and Brad Keselowski ultimately won the event.

Ford sure expects that to continue into next week and the remainder of the season, but who really knows for sure?

In 2018, Austin Dillon took the very first checkered flag of the season at Daytona International Speedway in the brand new Chevrolet Camaro.

Fast forward to the end of the season, where the new Camaro only captured three more victories (all by Chase Elliott) and lacked representation in the Championship Four weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

I’m not saying that will happen to Ford in their new model, but it could happen. It could be worse than Chevrolet was in 2018. It could be better. They could end up winning every single event from here on out.

Kyle Larson leads Corey LaJoie in the 2019 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Photo: Kyle Stephens / The Racing Experts

New Aero Package Debuts at Atlanta

It seems like a lot of people want to put this package on a pedestal or crucify it after one race.

That’s not how this works. This 2019 rules package is going to take time to dissect, to see how it plays out at each unique venue.

Also, the package that was seen at Atlanta isn’t even the full package. The Aero Ducts that will be used at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend is the full package, and could potentially produce a completely different race.

I liked what we saw at Atlanta. The leader wasn’t invincible, and could be passed in time. Restarts had cars up to four-wide, and although it looked that track position was key, drivers could still race their way back through the field.

After Kyle Larson was caught speeding in the pits, it opened up the race to almost anyone in the Top quarter of the field to be victorious.

That also leaves the question of whether it would have been a better race if Larson didn’t speed, and continued his dominance?

Regardless, one race does not determine success or failure. Ask about it after Homestead, but even that may be too soon.

Team Hendrick teammates William Byron and Alex Bowman lead a pack of cars at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2019. Photo: Kyle Stephens / The Racing Experts

Hendrick Motorsports turns in less-than-desired performance at Atlanta

The results at Atlanta could be considered an abysmal day for the Hendrick Motorsports camp.

The four-car juggernaut team led zero laps, had a best finish of 15th, and was outperformed by two satellite Chevrolet teams, in Chip Ganassi Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing.

From the Ganassi stables, Larson led a race high 142 laps. His teammate, Kurt Busch, had the highest Chevrolet finish of third place.

The two JTG Daugherty teammates Chris Buescher and Ryan Preece out-ran the Hendrick brigade for the majority of the race until the rookie, Preece, was taken out on a pit road incident with BJ McLeod.

Essentially, all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers picked up where they left off in 2018, in the middle of the pack.

Hendrick Motorsports isn’t used to mediocrity, having won 12 NASCAR Cup Series titles in the last 23 seasons.

Jimmie Johnson, who was the lowest finishing teammate in 24th, certainly isn’t used to struggling after collecting 83 wins and seven championships in his career, all accomplished in the same place.

It’s the second race of the season. Hendrick Motorsports is an elite organization. Chase Elliott and William Byron are recent NASCAR Xfinity Series champions, so they know how to win in some capacity as well.

Going with the theme of this column, yes, it’s just way too early to stick the fork in the Hendrick group. There are 34 more races to be run in the 2019 season.


Photo: Kyle Stephens / The Racing Experts

A lot of people will jump to conclusions and feel it necessary to judge immediately. I think NASCAR fans, analysts, and alike all need to just take a step back, take in what happened at Atlanta, and hold off passing judgement for a little while.

This weekend, at Las Vegas, will make the picture clearer, but even after that, it’s still going to be too early to tell.

I tend to think that a majority of the fan-base doesn’t care what we run, as long as there are cars on the track.

I’m just hoping that we continue to have entertaining races going forward, and that all the armchair analysts take a break from declaring anything this early in the 2019 campaign.


DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for

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