The 2021 edition of the Texas Motor Speedway was an interesting one. Not only did we get to see Kenny Wallace back in the #2 Hendrick Motorsports Honda for the first time in nearly two years, but it was also the final race for legendary driver Darrell Waltrip. Despite the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his last race, it must have been great to have one last hurrah at a place he called home for so long.
With all the changes to the qualifying format and race length, it was hard to know what to expect. While the old guard did struggle a little bit with the new rules in practice, the main event delivered an intensity that we haven’t seen at this point in the year. Between the battle of the titans, in which both Darryl Waltrip and Richard Petty fought until the very end, and the unforgettable conclusion that saw Kyle Busch take his first-career Monster Mile victory, it was clear that this was going to be something special. And it was!
Hot Pass Returns, But With New Rules
When the new racing regulations were first announced during the season, everyone expected them to be difficult. After all, the 2021 edition of the Texas Motor Speedway was going to be the first since the 2009 season that did not feature a traditional qualifying race to determine starting positions for the season. This was going to be a test.
While it’s true that the new rules were challenging, it would be doing a disservice to the fans and the drivers to say that it was simply difficult. The skill level and determination of this year’s participants was unquestionable.
It should come as no great surprise that the drivers would rise to the occasion and produce some incredible battles. However, what did come as a bit of a surprise was how quickly the regulars got back into their groove following such a drastic format change. By the halfway point of the season, all the teams and drivers were hitting their stride and showed no signs of fatigue from the qualifying format change. In fact, it would be fair to say that this was the most successful season since the 2009 edition. In terms of competition, this year’s edition was arguably the greatest in the history of the NASCAR Monster Energy Series.
Darrell Waltrip’s Last Race, And A Celebration In His Honor
On November 18, 2020, Darrell Waltrip made his last public appearance at the Texas Motor Speedway. The former seven-time Nascar champion and one of the most recognizable faces on the circuit was honored with a big-rig decorated in the emblematic red, white, and blue. Fans and teammates alike paid tribute to one of the most influential drivers of all time, and for the better part of the three-and-a-half hour ceremony, there were many moments that showcased Waltrip’s heart, soul, and competitive drive. It was a moving moment for NASCAR, the Monster Energy Series, and its fans. One that will be etched in all their memories. This was especially true for those who were fortunate enough to be there or watching it on TV.
A Different Sort Of Racing
The most distinctive feature of the 2021 edition of the Texas Motor Speedway was its format, in particular, the way that it was structured. For the first time in its history, the NASCAR Monster Energy Series did not feature a traditional single-stage qualifying race to establish starting positions for the season. The story behind this was that NASCAR was looking to create more exciting racing and increase fan engagement. This move proved to be a wise one as the new format was easily the most talked about element of the season. Drivers, crew chiefs, and team owners from all over the country took to social media to either praise or complain about the new format. But overall, it was a positive reaction.
The lack of a traditional qualifying race meant that several drivers throughout the season had to overcome various challenges to reach the starting grid. In some cases, teams used all kinds of strategies such as borrowing equipment from other teams or utilizing trial-and-error to figure out the right combination of tires, wing weights, and settings on their race cars. Some drivers were even forced to use a backup car due to major changes in engine configuration or a broken down vehicle. There were numerous challenges, but all in all, it was a unique glimpse into the thoroughbred world of NASCAR. Worth the effort, teams, and costs in terms of research and development. Just ask Richard Petty.
Kyle Busch Climbs To The Top Of The Ladder
It’s been a phenomenal season for Kyle Busch. The 23-year-old Oklahoma City native began a run of four consecutive Monster Energy Series championships this year and became the first driver to claim four straight Monster Energy Series crowns. In terms of sheer speed, Busch also set a new track record at the Texas Motor Speedway, finishing the 200-mile main event in 7:44.791, breaking the previous mark set by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. In 2021, the world stood still as Busch dominated the Monster Energy Series.
During the previous two decades, the Texas Motor Speedway had produced only three winning drivers – Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. This year was going to be the fourth for Kyle Busch, and the expectations were high. For the better part of the year, those expectations were fulfilled. Busch racked up 16 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes, leading every one of the 391 laps that he competed in. He also picked up 12 podiums, including the coveted Monster Energy Series championship. Add it all up, and it’s clear that Busch was on a mission to dominate the 2021 Monster Energy Series.
The Great Race Of Drivers Vs. Cars
One of the elements that drew such passionate fans to the Texas Motor Speedway in the first place was the great battles between the drivers and the cars. It wasn’t just about who was going to win the race – it was about who was going to be the best overall. In the first week of April, the drivers stepped up their game and began producing some of the most intense and exciting battles of all time. That’s not an exaggeration.
While it’s easy to point to the season-long qualifying format change and increased race length as the primary reasons for the improved intensity, it’s unfair to say that the drivers were any less prepared because of the sudden changes. In fact, if anything, the opposite may be true. Teams had more time to work on their cars and get them ready for the new format, and it showed in the results. Between the tenacious Darryl Waltrip and the youthful exuberance of Kyle Busch, this year’s edition of the Texas Motor Speedway was memorable for all the right reasons.