Nate Ryan: It has in that — for the first time in the playoffs — he doesn’t seem a lead-pipe cinch to reach the title race. Being regular-season champion could afford Busch stumbles in the first two rounds with nary a concern, but the mediocre effort at Martinsville was stunning and leaves him vulnerable. He probably still gets through, but there surely is major focus within the No. 18 camp about buckling down at Texas and Phoenix.
Dustin Long: Not yet but there is some doubt creeping in. This has been a disappointing playoffs for the No. 18 team. Busch ranks last among the eight remaining playoff drivers in stage points scored in the postseason. He ranks last among the eight remaining playoff drivers in total points scored in the postseason. He ranks sixth among the eight remaining playoff drivers in average finish in the postseason. His best finish in the playoffs was second at Richmond, a race Joe Gibbs Racing dominated. Other than that, he’s had only one top-five finish in the playoffs. He’s simply not running better than his competition. Of course, if he can get to Miami, what he’s done in the playoffs doesn’t matters and it’s all about that one race.
Daniel McFadin: He’s on less sturdier ground than he was at the start of the playoffs, but Busch still has Phoenix ahead of him. Having won the last two visits there, he’s still a major threat.
Jerry Bonkowski: I still think Busch will point his way into the championship race, but if he has a bad outing Sunday at Texas, all bets are off that he’s a potential lock to make it to Miami.
Did NASCAR get it right in its punishment of one crew member in the Denny Hamlin-Joey Logano altercation?
Nate Ryan: Yes. Crew members never should be allowed to put their hands on opposing teams’ drivers unless in self-defense or to keep their own drivers out of imminent and serious danger. Sunday didn’t meet either threshold.
Dustin Long: Yes. NASCAR needed to penalize the Team Penske crew member for tossing Denny Hamlin to the ground or it would have been a signal to all crew members that it’s OK to do such things to drivers. For all the talk about this being a team sport, the drivers are the show and they should be protected from being assaulted by opposing team members.
Daniel McFadin: I think it’s an adequate punishment that should get the message across to team members not to take it too far when wading into a pit road scuffle like in Martinsville.
Jerry Bonkowski: While Logano’s tire specialist, Dave Nichols Jr., was wrong in taking Denny Hamlin down to the ground, this was a much larger situation of unnecessary chaos between numerous members of both teams. It involved more than just Nichols. I think NASCAR should have penalized even more members from both teams, or at the very least, issued a very heavy financial penalty to both teams – maybe $100,000 each – for being involved in the skirmish and to prevent further similar situations.
Who would you take to win the title right now? Martin Truex Jr. or the field?
Nate Ryan: The head says Truex. The heart says it’s still Denny Hamlin’s year.
Dustin Long: I picked Denny Hamlin at the beginning of the playoffs and will stick with that but Truex is making it harder to do so.
Daniel McFadin: I’m taking the field. My gut still tells me Denny Hamlin is the man to beat right now.
Jerry Bonkowski: While it’s hard to pick against Truex with a series-high seven wins, I’m going with the field – and specifically Denny Hamlin. I still think this is Hamlin’s year (and best chance) to win the championship. And if he falls short, he may ultimately go on to join several other NASCAR greats to never have won even one Cup championship.