What do you make of Kyle Larson not winning the Southern 500 after dominating the race? A sign of progress based on the speed the car had or a sign that the team can’t find a way to win in a season where Larson no wins, five runner-up finishes and two third-place results?
Nate Ryan: It was more indicative of the importance of lane choice on restarts at Darlington Raceway than anything else. If the pit crew is able to dispatch the No. 42 Chevrolet about a tenth of a second earlier, Larson restarts on the inside and likely wins the Southern 500. It still was a highly encouraging week for Larson, whose team regained the speed that had been missing the past two months by installing some last-minute components on the car from a test at Richmond Raceway
Dustin Long: I look at how encouraged Kyle Larson was moments after climbing from his car after the race. Instead of being dejected with a win going away, he talked on pit road about how that car was the best he’s had in more than a year.
Daniel McFadin: It showed that no matter how good a car Larson has, if you take away the high lane from him at a track like Darlington he becomes mortal. That was a result of a marginally slower pit stop than Brad Keselowski‘s team. The No. 42 team has lacked the killer instinct it had in closing out races last year.
Dan Beaver: Finishing second or third has to be getting a little tiresome overall, but this week might be a different. Larson has finished in the top three seven times in 2018, but this is the first time he has backed up one top five with another so he should be encouraged.
What did Ross Chastain’s performance this past weekend driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity event at Darlington show you?
Nate Ryan: He is worthy of consideration for a top-tier Xfinity Series ride.
Dustin Long: It showed he belongs in the conversation for some open rides in the series this season.
Daniel McFadin: It solidified Chastain as a wheelman, something he’s shown in over-performing with JD Motorsports. But it also exemplified the stark difference in equipment between the frontrunners in Xfinity and the teams running just outside the top 12. It’s night and day.
Dan Beaver: The equation of car versus driver skews slightly toward car. Before Chastain, everyone who has driven the No. 42 this year has scored at least a top 10. All but Justin Marks has a top five.
The only way the 16-driver Cup playoff lineup changes this weekend at Indianapolis is if a driver outside that group wins. Of those needing to win to make the playoffs, who would you give the best chance of doing so?
Nate Ryan: Ryan Newman. The Indiana native is a past winner of the Brickyard, and Richard Childress Racing seems to have its Chevrolets trending in the right direction. How delightfully apropos would it be if Newman, who finished runner-up in the 2014 playoffs despite going winless, were to upset the most points-dependent playoff grid in history?
Dustin Long: Ryan Newman has had better performances lately and crew chief Luke Lambert is good at strategy. That’s the type of combination it will take for such a win this weekend.
Daniel McFadin: Daniel Suarez if he can use what he learned at Pocono in a near-winning performance. But the No. 19 team does not have momentum entering Indy. They’ve placed 11th or worse in the last three races.
Dan Beaver: Quite frankly, it’s impossible to predict. Anyone currently outside playoff contention who can win will do so with race strategy. If it comes down to a driver who suddenly finds a burst of speed, Daniel Suarez or William Byron are most likely because of the strength of their organizations at Indy.