Chase Elliott won the playoff races last year at Dover and Kansas — the next two races on the schedule. After his Talladega victory last weekend, do you believe he could be starting on a roll?
Nate Ryan: Yes. Elliott’s team seems to thrive off momentum (which is always a nebulous concept in auto racing but seems real in some instances). Regardless of whether he’d won at the next two tracks, expect Elliot’s surge to continue.
Dustin Long: Teams say momentum is meaningful in a sport that can be so grinding. While that will help, there’s still the matter of trying to beat the cars of Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske on the track. Coming off a win helps make that task seem easier for the No. 9 team. Wouldn’t be surprised to see the performance improve but not sure it will lead Elliott back to victory lane immediately.
Daniel McFadin: I’m somewhat skeptical. While he has an average finish of 4.3 at Dover (his best at any track) Elliott’s two top fives this year have come at Martinsville and Talladega, which are drastic departures from what the series experiences regularly. His only other top 10 so far was a ninth at Las Vegas. I expect to see improvement at Dover but not a win for Elliott.
Jerry Bonkowski: Not necessarily. It’s much easier to compare Dover and Kansas than Talladega and the other two. That being said, Elliott’s win at Talladega will certainly boost not only his team’s morale, but also that of Hendrick Motorsports overall.
NASCAR has held the yellow flag (at least initially) for a head-on crash on the last lap of the past two races at Talladega (Matt DiBenedetto last October; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on Sunday). Should officials go that far to ensure a green-flag finish?
Nate Ryan: Common sense says no. Every second matters in accident response time, and it would be impossible to determine instantaneously that DiBenedetto and Stenhouse were fine after such heavy impacts. If driver safety is a top priority, that risk should outweigh the desire to deliver a green-flag finish. But there’s also been seemingly little pushback on NASCAR from drivers and teams about this policy, and if they’re OK with it, then it’s hard to fault NASCAR. There is some measure of risk assumption as a race car driver, but those risks also should be minimized as much as possible in the moments immediately after hitting a wall at 190 mph.
Dustin Long: Officials had more time to analyze Stenhouse’s wreck before making a decision to throw the caution flag because of Talladega’s size. NASCAR needs to be careful in overanalyzing such scenarios. Yes, it’s preferable to finish under green but driver safety must always be paramount.
Daniel McFadin: The caution needs to be put out for any impact with the wall that immobilizes a car. If it’s a harmless spin, no need for a caution. But the safety and well-being of a driver should be more important than a green-flag finish. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Jerry Bonkowski: They likely held the flag because of Talladega’s size. You likely wouldn’t see the same thing happen at a smaller track like the next few on the schedule, including Dover, Kansas and Charlotte. Frankly, I’d like to see a yellow come out immediately due to a wreck on the last lap, rather than try and hold it like it has done so the last two races at ‘Dega.
Now that Chevrolet teams are working together, what must Toyota, which has the fewest cars in the field, do to combat the strength in numbers of Chevrolet and Ford in the next speedway race in Daytona in July?
Nate Ryan: There isn’t much that can be done, but with 100 fewer miles and cooler conditions at night, the July 6 race could play out much differently than the Daytona 500 with a de-emphasis on the importance of teamwork.
Dustin Long: Just like in any sports, the strongest and best do not always win. Strategy can overcome such obstacles. Toyota might have to come up with a different strategy to counter the challenges. What that will be? Toyota and its teams have a couple of months to figure that out.
Daniel McFadin: If there’s strength in numbers, Daytona might be the right time for Toyota to field a second car through Leavine Family Racing with Christopher Bell behind the wheel. But even that won’t help if you lose multiple cars in early wrecks.
Jerry Bonkowski: Toyota — and Ford, for that matter — definitely took notes on how their Chevy counterparts performed at Talladega. And they will definitely apply those notes to Daytona in July. Because Toyota has fewer cars, they in theory have to work harder.