Is Chevy in trouble after hardly contending at Pocono and scoring the fewest top-10 finishes in the last four races among the manufacturers?
Jeff Burton: Chevy lost a major asset when Stewart-Haas Racing left. I think it would be unrealistic and look at their numbers and expect their numbers to be as good as last year. The other problem I have is if you look at the number of wins that have come from Hendrick Motorsports, by far the majority of those wins have come from one team. That’s no disrespect to any other team, but the facts don’t lie. The facts are that the 48 team has carried Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas last year helped carry Chevrolet. They don’t have the number of teams and the teams they have, they don’t have as many good teams as they had last year.
Steve Letarte: My concern is, not to get too technical, but with the shifting at Pocono and the RPM range that used to be a Chevrolet track. For some reason it is going away. When I look at the teams they support, it looks really fragmented. They have Hendrick Motorsports, they have Chip Ganassi Racing, they have Richard Childress Racing. RCR, while they’ve won two races, we don’t see them leading many laps and competing for wins week in and week out. Hendrick and Ganassi’s production has just been average. I do think that Chevrolet has to go to the drawing board with their approach and decide whether it’s time to condense some of their efforts and by efforts I purely mean financial dollars. Would they be better to support less cars and put more money behind them?
Nate Ryan: It isn’t too late, but there definitely are some portentous signs that a tough playoffs could loom. Richard Childress Racing has been erratic (and mostly down) since the wins by Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon. Hendrick Motorsports has victories and consistent top-10 speed, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. detailed its recent deficiencies after Pocono. Chip Ganassi Racing seemed on the upswing until the past two races, which again have been critical barometers. There still is time to get things righted, but it’s been a tougher summer than anticipated.
Dustin Long: Not liking how Chevrolet teams have run lately, but they still have time to get things turned around and have multiple teams challenge for a championship.
Has Kyle Busch replaced Kyle Larson as being the co-championship favorite with Martin Truex Jr.?
Jeff Burton: Temporarily. These are moving targets. If I had to put my money today on somebody, yes, it would be Kyle Busch. As good as Kyle Larson and his team were when they were their best, he still won only two races. To win this championship, you’re going to have to beat people that have won a lot of races. I still wonder when you get into that pressure-filled, playoff-winning championship time, it’s different. I wonder where they are compared to those other teams that have been there and done that.
Steve Letarte: Here’s the truth. What I’ve learned after breaking down the last two or three seasons is I’m not going to tell you the championship favorite until about race four of the playoffs because it doesn’t matter who is good now. It truly matters who finds the right package in the last four or five races. Right now, Martin Truex Jr. has to be the favorite. Kyle Busch has got to be on the list. My four are very simple: Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson.
Nate Ryan: Definitely. He has one fewer win, but Busch is matching Larson in most major Loop Data categories, and his No. 18 team has been top notch the past three races at a critical juncture of the season when many teams begin rolling out their best cars.
Dustin Long: Yes, but it doesn’t matter at this point. The championship four won’t be set for three months. Kyle Larson’s team has dipped a bit lately and it is concerning, but they still have time to recover. Also, at this point a year ago, many viewed Martin Truex Jr. as the title favorite and he didn’t even make it to the championship race.
Will Joey Logano make the playoffs?
Jeff Burton: It’s hard for me to say that Joey Logano is not going to make the playoffs. The evidence says he won’t, but my racing intellect tells me that they’ll find a way. If I look at the numbers and I look at how they’re running and the things they’re going to have to do, I would say no but I don’t believe that they’re out of it. I don’t think they have to win a race. I still think there’s enough turmoil in the tracks coming up that it only takes one of those teams ahead of them to have a couple of bad races and if they can run well, I still think they can get themselves in. You think about the races coming up, Watkins Glen, Bristol, Darlington, there’s some very difficult races coming up.
Steve Letarte: No. Because they’re not fast enough. They’re not executing enough. They’re not scoring enough points. The only way the 22 makes the playoffs is to win Richmond. That was way easier in years past when 15 drivers didn’t care where they ran at Richmond. When you go to Richmond right now, those 15 other drivers care where they won. So winning the last race at Richmond is nowhere as near as easy as it used to be.
Nate Ryan: He has been so good on road courses the last few years, it’s feasible Logano could carry his No. 22 Ford to a win at Watkins Glen (where he won in 2015). He might be able to wrestle the car to wins at Bristol and Richmond the same way. But a victory seemingly would require a swing for the fences by Logano’s lagging team, which seems better suited to improving by getting the basics right.
Dustin Long: Don’t see it happening. Not enough speed. With the new format giving drivers incentive to race harder with so many playoff points available, his path won’t be easy.