Nate Ryan and Dustin Long debate some of the key issues in the sport this week:
William Byron has won the past two Xfinity races and easily could have won three in a row. Is he showing you he is worthy of a Cup ride next year?
Nate Ryan: Absolutely. He seems less of a risk every week for promotion by Hendrick Motorsports. (And he also seems more of a bargain at a Cup rookie salary.)
Dustin Long: Yes. His ability to adapt despite his relative lack of experience is stunning. Still, there’s a big difference between Xfinity and Cup. Hendrick is an organization that can put a good support group around him to help with a move to Cup and the challenges — and setbacks — he’ll likely face. If his success continues, maybe its worthwhile to go ahead and move him up to Cup for next year.
Kasey Kahne is running five nights of sprint car races this week and Kyle Larson is running four night of sprint car races. If you were their boss, how would you handle their desire to race those cars?
Nate Ryan: Let them run if it keeps them happy and if their cars are held to the most stringent of safety standards. Tony Stewart often proved that extracurricular racing didn’t detract from his Cup results (and honing his restart ability in a sprint car actually might have helped his push to the 2011 championship), and Larson seems to be in that same place now.
Of course, Stewart missed half a season with a broken leg in a crash four years ago, and team owners Chip Ganassi and Rick Hendrick understandably are leery about their drivers racing cars that occasionally can seem like deathtraps, which is partly why Larson is limited to 25 races and Kahne didn’t race sprint cars from 2013-15.
But Larson also made a compelling case recently for why drivers should compete on the grass-roots level as often as possible, and the greater good of NASCAR needs the benefit of that exposure and outreach.
Dustin Long: Chip Ganassi Racing’s model of limiting Larson to 25 races seems a fair and reasonable way to doing it. No driver needs to be racing all the time in another series. That’s a hobby and their main job is the Cup team — which many people depend on to succeed for jobs.
There has to be a balance. Just as Jimmie Johnson skies (people get hurt doing that), or he and other drivers bike (again people get hurt or could be killed in accidents), team owners aren’t going to be able to stop these drivers from living.
There can be a benefit to allowing these drivers to race. Look at the confidence Larson is building with his sprint car success. Owners say the most important part of their team is people. Confidence can mean a lot during a long, rigorous season. Let them race.
Steve O’Donnell said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast that officials are looking to move the overtime line to the start/finish line in 2018. What should NASCAR do about overtime?
Nate Ryan: Get rid of it altogether. Let races end under caution the way they did from 1948 to 2004. If there’s a wreck late in a race but still possible to let the lead pack race back to the flagstand without putting anyone at risk, hold the yellow until the leader reaches the line when possible. Or perhaps revisit the idea of red-flagging a race once if there’s a caution within a window of five to 10 laps remaining. But always follow this priority list for concluding a race: 1) safety; 2) competitive integrity; 3) entertainment value.
Dustin Long: NASCAR needs to decide what its goal is. I grew up with races ending under caution. Yes, it’s a downer, but I’m fine with that. However, I understand, that the entertainment factor of a green-flag finish provides more excitement and buzz for the sport than cars going under the checkered flag at 55 mph or less.
Let’s be honest, a good number of people judge how good a race is by the finish. In that sense, the sport is going to look for a way to end races under green while trying to limit the potential danger to drivers.
I’m fine with one attempt at a green-flag finish — whether that is overtime similar to what is the case now or red flagging a race when there’s a late caution — but I’m not for endless attempts at a green-flag finish that puts drivers in jeopardy.
For more on what’s happening in NASCAR, watch NASCAR America from 5-6 p.m. ET today with Carolyn Manno, Steve Letarte and Kyle Petty.