With sports documentaries the rage now thanks to film series on Michael Jordan and Lance Armstrong, what’s a NASCAR story you’d like to see a documentary on?
Dustin Long: The 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega. The sport was going through significant change. Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper all were killed in crashes that season. Roper died the day before the Talladega race from injuries suffered in a Truck crash at Texas. Talladega saw new rules to enhance passing after that year’s Daytona 500 had nine lead changes, the fewest in that race since the rain-shortened 1965 event. When speeds neared 200 mph, NASCAR made a restrictor-plate change the day before the Talladega race, an unheard move at the time. With all of that happening, the sport also was looking ahead to a 2001 season that would put races on Fox and NBC. In the midst of all that came a magical run, as Dale Earnhardt went from 18th to first in five laps, scoring his final Cup win. Afterward he simply said: “I don’t know how I won it. Honestly.” So much was happening in and around this one race.
Daniel McFadin: I’d like a documentary on an obscure driver who finished second in one of NASCAR’s biggest races: Johnny Beauchamp. A native of Iowa, Beauchamp only made 23 Cup Series starts and won twice. But his legacy is mostly tied to the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959. After a photo finish with Lee Petty, Beauchamp was declared the initial winner. But following days of reviewing film and photographs, NASCAR reversed course and made Petty the winner. Petty was already famous and would be for the rest of his life. How would the career of Beauchamp, who died in 1981, have been impacted had he won that race?
Jerry Bonkowski: I would love to see a documentary on Richard Petty and how much he has meant to the sport over the last 60-plus years. Unfortunately, many of today’s younger fans never saw Petty either race or race in his prime. He was the Michael Jordan of NASCAR, in my opinion, one of the most dominant drivers ever. Plus, he could spin hours of great stories that NASCAR fans would love to hear either again or for the first time. The King is a true NASCAR treasure and a documentary on him would only serve to further share his legend.
The first night Cup race at Martinsville Speedway is Wednesday but it won’t have any fans. What will it be like for you to see the historic race in such a setting?
Dustin Long: Sentimentality may tug at me a bit since I’ve covered nearly every Martinsville Cup race for more than 20 years. But my thoughts will be more with the fans who make the annual pilgrimage to the track and those who would have been making their first trip there and experiencing a Martinsville hot dog for the first time.
Daniel McFadin: The lack of fans definitely takes some of the luster off the race. This is an event that’s had multiple years of hype since the lights were installed. Outside the Bristol fall race, I can’t remember the last time I was excited about a night race like I am about Wednesday’s. It’s been very disappointing seeing historic races and controversial moments occur over the last three weeks without cheering fans as a soundtrack.
Jerry Bonkowski: While it’s obviously not the situation the track or fans wanted, I’m convinced it will only serve to further whet fans’ appetite for when the next night race will be held at Martinsville – and with fans in attendance. This has been a milestone that fans and NASCAR have long waited for. In time, it has the prospect to become almost as popular as the annual night race at Bristol, in my opinion.
What driver or drivers have stood out to you since the series resumed last month?
Dustin Long: The talk is once a driver gets over 40 years old their skills diminish and their winning ways will dissipate, yet 44-year-old Kevin Harvick continues to win races and run in the top 10. That’s impressive. Chase Elliott also has impressed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull off a string of wins at some point.
Daniel McFadin: The Team Penske drivers. While Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have each won twice, Ryan Blaney has been a consistent frontrunner, finishing in the top four in three of the last four races while having a potentially winning car at Bristol before he was in a wreck. So far, the decision to swap all three crew chiefs in the offseason is proving to have been a good one.
Jerry Bonkowski: Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch. All but Busch have won a race since the sport’s return – and Busch has been knocking on the door with two top five and three other top-10 finishes. It’s just a matter of time before he takes the checkered flag. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him do so Wednesday at Martinsville.
How soon until Jimmie Johnson wins a race?
Dustin Long: If he doesn’t do it soon, it could be much more difficult. Hendrick Motorsports is viewed as having the top cars but how long will the organization hold that advantage?
Daniel McFadin: I give it at least five races if he doesn’t win Wednesday at Martinsville. That five-race stretch ends at Indianapolis, where he’s won four times.
Jerry Bonkowski: He’s come close several times already since NASCAR’s return to racing following the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is Johnson due, at 105 races to date without a win, the seven-time champ is long overdue. I believe that when he finally breaks through, it will be at a place where he has excelled in the past. He’s won nine times at Martinsville, his second-most successful track. Can he make it 10 Wednesday night and finally get that winless streak off his back?