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Nate Ryan: There has to be a solution, and whatever it is, NASCAR needs to implement it quickly. Switching from headlines about woes in postrace inspection to woes in prerace inspection is an improvement, but the preferred solution should be no headlines about inspection at all.
Dustin Long: Until NASCAR figures out a way to do things differently, inspection failures will dominate talk before a race, especially if it involves more than 20% of the field as it did at Richmond.
Daniel McFadin: Unless you change the penalties for failing inspection (again), the cars will fail regardless of if you hold qualifying inspection right after qualifying or on race day. Only real solution I can think of is to have inspection before qualifying and for that to be the only inspection until after the race. That would just continue the endless cycle we seem to be in on the issue.
Jerry Bonkowski: It’s just the nature of the beast, particularly when you have such a large number of cars that failed pre-race inspection. The larger the number of cars penalized, the greater the attention that is placed upon the situation by the media. Perhaps more attention should be focused on what NASCAR could do to improve and streamline the overall inspection process. And if it has to swing the pendulum even further, increase penalties to keep crew chiefs from playing games with their cars. Kick out the crew chief from the race, or perhaps hold the car for the first five laps of the race. That will change things in a hurry.
NASCAR tried another format for Cup qualifying at Richmond, limiting each round to five minutes. Should this be the format at most tracks the rest of the season?
Nate Ryan: Makes no difference here as long as the focus is on qualifying results and whoever won the pole position, not on the process for getting there.
Dustin Long: Whatever it does, NASCAR needs to get out of this rabbit hole soon.
Daniel McFadin: I’m 50/50 on this. I’d prefer the first round being 10 minutes at anything larger than 1 mile, which allows teams to make more than one run – but that’s based on the premise drivers won’t wait until the final minute to make their first.
Jerry Bonkowski: Five minutes works fine on short tracks. Not so much on longer tracks of 1.5 miles and greater. That’s why I believe open qualifying should be replaced by having two to four cars (depending on the size of the racetrack) go out at a time for two or three qualifying laps. This creates attention and a kind of race-within-qualifying excitement among fans to see which driver can “beat” the other drivers, so to speak.
There’s been a lot of talk about what Joe Gibbs Racing will do with its Cup lineup for next year with Christopher Bell’s continued success in Xfinity, but Cole Custer has won twice for Stewart-Haas Racing in Xfinity. What kind of dilemma could SHR face with its driver lineup for 2020?
Nate Ryan: With no disrespect to Cole Custer, he has yet to show he is in Christopher Bell’s league, nor is there the external pressure of a huge investment in his development to avoid letting a coveted prospect escape (as is the case with the millions Toyota Racing Development has spent on grooming Bell). Because Custer is related to the SHR executive Joe Custer and effectively sponsored by team owner Gene Haas, the dynamics are incomparable. If Custer shows enough promise for promotion, the team probably could make room in Cup next season, but there is no sense of urgency as exists with Bell.
Dustin Long: Gene Haas said last year that Cole Custer needed to win more often. If Custer continues to do so, it will make him a more inviting driver for a team, whether that is SHR or another Ford operation.
Daniel McFadin: Cole Custer is already in his third full-time Xfinity season, which makes him middle-aged in Xfinity driver years. While we’re not privy to driver contract lengths, Kevin Harvick is locked in to at least 2021, Daniel Suarez is in his first and Aric Almirola continues to be strong in his second year. Clint Bowyer probably has the biggest question mark being in his third year with the team. Gene Haas will have to decide who’s a better long-term investment: A 39-year-old Bowyer or a 21-year-old Custer. Bowyer grabbing some wins this year could complicate that.
Jerry Bonkowski: One potential option could be embedding Bell with another Toyota team such as Leavine Family Racing in 2020, like when Erik Jones was with Furniture Row Racing in 2017. I think you’ll see a similar embed of Custer with another Ford team, perhaps Front Row Motorsports. Or, because Custer’s father, Joe, is a top executive at SHR, it would not surprise me to see Daniel Suarez shifted to another Ford team to make way for the younger Custer at SHR.
The IndyCar race at Long Beach ended with series officials penalizing Graham Rahal one spot for blocking Scott Dixon on the last lap. Should blocking be a penalty in NASCAR?
Nate Ryan: No. Different series, different cars, different tracks.
Dustin Long: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Don’t need any more judgment calls for NASCAR to make.
Daniel McFadin: Heck no. As much as Tony Stewart may have despised it, blocking is a racing maneuver. If a driver doesn’t like it, just show your displeasure with a love tap to the rear bumper.
Jerry Bonkowski: Yes, particularly if it puts the driver being blocked and other trailing drivers at risk of crashing. I’ve long felt that egregious blocking should be penalized. But if that were to happen, it could open a Pandora’s Box of additional issues, such as bump-and-run moving an opponent out of the way. How would NASCAR draw the line between egregious blocking/bumping and legitimate blocking/bumping?
Jimmie Johnson ran in Monday’s Boston Marathon. What is another event you’d like to see a NASCAR driver attempt to take part in someday?
Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin in a PGA Tour event and paired with Michael Jordan.
Dustin Long:Kyle Larson as a bobsled driver. Also, Denny Hamlin in a PGA Tour event.
Daniel McFadin: Since Ryan Newman is sponsored by Oscar Mayer, he should enter the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4.
Jerry Bonkowski: The Baja 1000 is the first one that comes to mind. That, to me, is the most grueling combination of man and machine. I’d also like to see more NASCAR drivers try their luck in the Indianapolis 500 and, conversely, do “the double” by racing later that same day in the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. Lastly, although it would be difficult due to the Cup schedule, I’d also like to see some of the best golfers among Cup drivers try their luck at The Masters.
Ryan: Kyle Busch has been the best, but is his Cup sword the sharpest?
BRISTOL, Tenn. – So maybe eight races into the season is a little early to start looking ahead to the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But don’t fault Kyle Busch for looking ahead – and simultaneously looking back – after his series-high third victory of the Cup season in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
With eight consecutive top-10 finishes (the first driver to do that since Terry Labonte in 1992), the 2015 champion is off to one of the greatest starts in the history of NASCAR’s premier series.
So is Busch the championship favorite after outdueling Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, whose Team Penske Fords have combined with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyota to account for every victory this year (Keselowski has two, Logano one and Busch’s teammate Denny Hamlin has the other two)?
“No, I don’t think we’re the championship favorite,” Busch told NBC Sports in victory lane Sunday. “I think any of the two Penske guys (Keselowski and Logano) are the championship favorites. They certainly have the speed, and they showed us what short-run speed looked like last year at Homestead, so that’s what I see right now. We’ve got some work to do.”
That was largely on the strength of playoff points, which Busch is accumulating at an even greater rate than the Big Three last year. With 19 through eight races (Keselowski is next closest with 12), Busch is well on the way to carrying a full race of points cushion into the playoffs, which would help blaze a clear path toward his fifth consecutive championship round appearance.
But yet … it doesn’t feel as if Busch is the clear-cut favorite. He led 71 laps at Bristol while Logano (146) and Keselowski (40) more than doubled his total (and Penske’s third driver, Ryan Blaney, led a race-high 156 laps).
“That was an honest interview from Kyle in victory lane talking about the Penske cars,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Monday on NASCAR America’s Bristol recap. “He knows when they go to Homestead, short-run speed is going to be important. He knows that’s something you have to work on all year long. He also knows that he was not the dominant car at Bristol. I feel I have to agree with them that Penske cars are the favorites right now.”
Though he turned the tables on Logano at Bristol with crew chief Adam Stevens’ clever strategy call, the short-run equation still feels the same five months later.
“I would hesitate to pick who’s best right now,” Stevens said when asked about whether Gibbs or Penske was the favorite. “I mean, they’ve had us covered today. We weren’t very good, like I’ve said a dozen times already. I don’t think being fast in the first seven or eight races of the year really means that you’re going to go to Homestead and wear everybody out. Certainly, their program is in a good spot. I think we’re in a good spot.
“I think if we do our jobs, hit it right, we can run with anybody. I don’t expect that will be different when we get down to the playoffs.”
That’s in the long run. In the meantime, keep an eye on the short-run speed.
Here are other items that caught our eye at Bristol:
Regardless, even though the inspections were undoubtedly a stressful distraction, they probably were worth it for a driver who has implored his team to reassert the dominant speed it had in 2014, ’15, ’16 and ‘18.
The penalty (a pass-through at the start that dropped Harvick a lap down) was stiff, but a Lap 3 caution kept Harvick from falling two laps down and might have given him a shot at contending for a win if not for a loose wheel on his first stop.
He still rebounded from being four laps down to finish 13th and on the lead lap.
Harvick didn’t offer any comments after this race, but he clearly was happy with the speed of his Stewart-Haas Racing team even though Sunday was only his second finish outside the top 10 in 2019.
Bristol has become one of the best tracks for Clint Bowyer (who has six top 10s in the past eight races there), but how much better could the 0.533-mile oval be if the No. 14 Ford driver improved on restarts?
The case can be made that Bowyer has left 11 playoff points on the table over the past two races at Bristol. In the Aug. 18, 2018 race, he lost the lead to winner Kurt Busch on a restart with 23 laps remaining, failing to launch well despite having the preferred outside lane.
Sunday, he paid for choosing the inside line as the leader on a restart with two laps to go in the first stage, losing the playoff point by inches to Ty Dillon at the line.
Bowyer also lost the lead Sunday to race leader Kyle Busch on a Lap 383 restart despite having the outside line, and he fell from second to fourth from inside on a Lap 423 restart, which resulted in the battle with Joey Logano nine laps later that put Bowyer’s car in the wall.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver rebounded for a seventh by staying on track through the final caution but called it “just horribly disappointing. You get that close. Long runs were my strong suit. I couldn’t take off all day long.”
If Bowyer’s team can figure out a way to keep more air pressure in his tires for the restarts and short runs, the win will come, but in the meantime, it likely will mean much more frustration at Bristol, which has become one of the most line-sensitive tracks in NASCAR for restarts.
How important is lane assignment on restarts at Bristol?
As David Smith of the excellent Motorsports Analytics site notes, having the outside vs. the inside groove is the largest disparity in NASCAR’s premier series. According to statistics provided by Smith on his Positive Regression podcast with Alan Cavanna, cars lining up on the outside retained positions 93% of the time while those on the inside kept their spots at a rate of only 9%.
Positive Regression Episode 11 – …But Was It a Good Race?
In which our heroes debate the necessity of entertaining qualifying sessions and dissect NASCAR's greatest races in search of commonalities. https://t.co/IjikdEbr0T
This is worth keeping in mind if another situation arises like the scoring confusion involving Keselowski’s car on the final restart – and why it’s incumbent upon NASCAR to get cars accurately lined up as quickly as possible. The stark difference between outside and inside could mean that there could be undue resistance from cars that don’t want to be ordered in the correct spot, making the process even more difficult.
For example, Ryan Newman thought he was restarting sixth (and on the outside) before Keselowski obeyed NASCAR’s orders. Though Newman “improved” to fifth on the restart as Keselowski awkwardly dropped into a three-wide formation in the fourth row on the way to serving black flag, the No. 6 Ford would finish ninth – which was likely worse than he might have if he’d restarted sixth.
Such is the era of double-file restarts on tracks with an overwhelmingly preferred restart groove.
Jimmie Johnson’s resurgence continued with his No. 48 Chevrolet starting and finishing 10th, building on a fifth at Texas Motor Speedway. But it might have started with what the team did wrong in his stunning 24th (two laps down) at Martinsville Speedway. The seven-time champion provided insight into what happened at one of his best tracks, noting the No. 48 team learned from the No. 9’s runner-up finish with a Chevrolet that featured fewer new widgets.
“At times you need to be aggressive and put new stuff on the car,” Johnson said after final practice at Bristol. “Then there are other times when you know there is a proven component or proven product that you just need to stay the course with. I don’t envy the crew chief position, or others, when you have drivers saying, ‘We need more, we need more…we need something new. What we have is not working’. So we put in all new sometimes. That is what we did at Martinsville. New wasn’t the thing to do. There are proven things that that we should have stayed the course. When to be aggressive and when not to…it sucks.”
And it’s compounded by two factors: 1) the Nevada-Arizona-California swing that precludes making major changes to the cars between races and ratchets up the pressure to improve when the opportunity arrives; and 2) the lack of real-world test to validate aerodynamics.
“Things that look good in sim, and we are ‘Oh, well, OK, We are putting that in!’ We still have to go prove it in race conditions,” Johnson said. “That is one thing simulation can not do. What the track is going to do when it rubbers up. And honestly in a lot of cases what it is like in traffic. That is all speculation. We don’t have any simulation that replicate what goes on in dirty air.”
After this column posted, a considerate and faithful reader noted that it neglected to touch on the spate of loose wheels Sunday at Bristol. Among the most notable and costly:
—Erik Jones made two green-flag pit stops (from second on Lap 65 and from 14th on Lap 320), costing him a good finish.
–Martin Truex Jr. was forced to pit from the top five under green before the end of the second stage and was stuck a lap down for the rest of the race.
–Brad Keselowski pitted for a loose wheel under yellow after the end of the second stage.
—Chris Buescher was headed toward a top five before slamming the Turn 2 wall because of a loose wheel with less than 50 laps remaining.
–Harvick also went four laps down after pitting under green on Lap 65 for a loose right front.
The root cause of all the problems?
Denny Hamlin theorized it’s the pit guns.
Somewhere around 10-12 loose wheels.. where’s @TonyStewart when you need him to talk about safety.. Guns just aren’t up to standards
Typically loose wheels tend to be a byproduct of mistakes from pit crews rushing to gain track position (which did prove critical at Bristol based on the final round of pit strategy) or malfunctioning equipment.
Bristol’s high banking does put a heavy load on lug nuts, so getting them secure is essential. Some teams expressed concern to NBCSports.com that the NASCAR-mandated pit guns (which were introduced last year) don’t apply enough torque to keep the lug nuts secure even when they are fastened perfectly.
The pitting outside the box penalty on Daniel Suarez’s team was a ticky-tack call that NASCAR hopefully will be revisiting for next season.
Daniel Suarez's one lap penalty was for removing tape as he left the pit stall. Rule says no work can be done "if any part of the vehicle is visibly on top of or over the front line of the pit box." pic.twitter.com/QktcfhFPLK
Shortly after the race, Suarez hadn’t seen the video of the stop in which a crew member removed tape from the nose while the No. 41 Ford was a few inches over the line. And once Suarez had seen it, it probably wouldn’t have changed his opinion. And that reveals something important about the Stewart-Haas Racing driver: In his third full season, Suarez doesn’t have time for excuses, whether it’s about being thrust into Cup too soon (he was) or challenging whether a whistle from the tower was questionable (it was).
“We know the rules,” he said after finishing eighth. “We cannot work on the car when the car is out of the box. I stopped moving, and then he went back to get. I thought he had it already. I shouldn’t move if he didn’t have it, and he shouldn’t touch the car if it’s out of the box, no matter what.
“So it’s something we have to work on. It’s good these things happen right now. We don’t want these things to happen later in the season. These mistakes have to happen right now so we can clean everything up for when the important part of the season is here.”
We are making the NASCAR experience more affordable for our 60th anniversary! We have adjusted our 2020 grandstand pricing to make going to our races more accessible for fans everywhere! 🏁 #RacetoAMS2020
But trying to cap hotel prices isn’t the answer (nor is it feasible or even necessarily advisable given that the small market’s tax base likely counts on that revenue).
There aren’t enough hotel rooms within a 60-mile radius of Bristol Motor Speedway for a complete lodging of the twice annual sellout crowds of 160,000 that regularly filled Bristol 10 to 15 years ago.
And even if there were enough hotel rooms within an hour’s drive, and if they were all affordable, the infrastructure of the Tri-Cities isn’t constructed to handle that many people driving into the race.
The reason that Bristol worked when it sold out twice annually was because most of its fans camped. The vast campgrounds surrounding the track suffered a mass exodus during the Great Recession, shortly after the track underwent a controversial reconfiguration in 2007 and subsequent reversion in 2012. The economy recovered, but the fans didn’t return en masse.
Had some curiosity after I came back from race today. Made some calls, this is what I got. Johnson City Courtyard =$319, but are now taking walk-ins at $105. Hampton Inn= $308. But will be back down to $133 on Monday. Reason he gave was “it’s race weekend.” Pisses me off!!!
Yes, hotel rates can be obscenely expensive in the area around Bristol, but that’s mostly because demand easily can outstrip supply.
Sky-high prices also are part and parcel to big-league sporting events (or maybe you missed what it cost to park in downtown Minneapolis last weekend), and market forces also work as those events lose their luster. Last weekend, rates at hotels within a 20-minute drive to the Bristol track plummeted to a third of what they likely would have been for the same race weekend 10 to 15 years ago.
If NASCAR officials are serious about ejecting hauler drivers from teams for inspection failures, it would create some interesting logistical challenges … and not just because of the need for a CDL-A license to move an 18-wheeler from the infield and up the high banks of Bristol.
With the long-haul requirement of all the ancillary companies that transport the support equipment for NASCAR’s traveling circus, there are enough prospective truck drivers hanging around the infield for a Cup team caught in a pinch.
The real costs to teams of tossing hauler drivers would be the institutional knowledge that all of them have about packing up their trucks and the support duties (many are master grillers).
NASCAR has tried many methods of deterrence over the years (points penalties, crew chief suspensions, practice time deductions) to force teams into bringing “cleaner” cars through inspection.
This type of punishment would be less about hurting teams competitively than about inconveniencing them. With teams required to submit full designated team rosters since last season, that makes it easier for NASCAR to be more selective in making them feel the hurt of a penalty. It could be a clever approach.
Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway yielded countless nuggets from several drivers whose stories often go overlooked or untold. Whether Bubba Wallace’s love of photography, Michael McDowell’s work habits or Tyler Reddick’s Twitter persona, all the interviews were worthwhile.
There is resistance to the new requirements from the establishment, and that’s understandable because 1) they are unaccustomed to the asks after years of handling media another way; and 2) the demands on their time – between increased sponsor rosters (and resultant appearances) and weekly data downloads from engineers – are greater than ever while their stature ensures they are requested heavily.
But for the next generation of drivers – such as Reddick, Chase Briscoe and Christopher Bell, all of whom patiently took questions at Bristol (some tough, in Bell’s case) – this arrangement will become the norm, and as it does, NASCAR, its sponsors and (most importantly) its fans will be better for it.
Bump & Run: Saying you’d wreck your brother for a win a good move?
Kyle Busch seemed slightly miffed that his older brother adamantly vowed multiple times he would have wrecked the No. 18 for the win. Is this the power dynamics of a 30-year sibling rivalry or part of the age-old debates over proper racing ethics?
Nate Ryan: It’s a little of both. While Kyle is right to question the wisdom of vowing you would have wrecked someone if you’d had the chance, Kurt’s repeated (and somewhat gleeful) promises in postrace interviews and on social media seemed indicative of getting inside his younger brother’s head. It felt as if we might be witnessing how Busch brother discussions would have gone after go-kart races in Las Vegas during the early 1990s. But it also was a fresh spin on how far a driver will go to win a race. Kurt has established the line he’ll cross next time to win at Bristol, and by owning it, that should help clear his conscience while also giving fans something to anticipate next time.
Dustin Long: Both. If I was racing my brother, I’d tell him we’re not brothers on the track, we are competitors. If I had to knock him out of the way to win, I would. If he didn’t like it, he could go cry to Mom and Dad.
Daniel McFadin: I imagine Kurt Busch would have said that regardless of who was in the lead, but it’s definitely amplified by their sibling rivalry. It’s really surprising how little they’ve gotten to go head-to-head over the years. But the way they’re both racing, it might happen more than once the rest of the year.
Jerry Bonkowski: If memory serves me correct, Kyle and Kurt have had a few skirmishes over the years, so it wouldn’t surprise me if either took out the other one in a future race or two. What I really want to see, though, is how the pair reacts to each other if one takes the other out. Will we see fists fly? Will they take each other off their respective Christmas present lists?
Nate Ryan: With fewer than 20 laps remaining, this was a less than ideal situation. It probably would have been better to hold the restart and avoid affecting others’ races. But by holding the restart, NASCAR is burning laps, which also negatively impacts the pit calls made by other teams (as the NASCAR America crew noted Monday). A red flag would have been too heavy-handed and set an unfortunate precedent just to position the order correctly. As Jeff Burton noted, five warnings and an extra lap was enough time for Keselowski to line up in the right spot, and at some point, the race had to return to green. And while Keselowski is at fault, the NASCAR tower hopefully learned a lesson about ensuring its communication is better next time, because the radio chatter indicated too much confusion.
Dustin Long: The penalty was justified, but NASCAR should have gotten the lineup right before restarting the race. Throw the red flag if you have to, but get the lineup right! With Brad Keselowski not in the proper spot, he forced Joey Logano and Austin Dillon to be three-wide on the restart. While NASCAR extended the caution a lap to try to get Keselowski in the right spot, it should have stopped the field on the backstretch and gotten the field aligned to go back racing. Get the lineup right!
Daniel McFadin: NASCAR was right to penalize Brad Keselowski, but NASCAR should have taken as much time as possible to rectify the situation in order to ensure a proper restart. The wacky three-wide position of Keselowski, Joey Logano and Austin Dillon doesn’t just impact one driver and as Keselowski admitted, likely affected the outcome of the race.
Jerry Bonkowski: NASCAR was correct in penalizing Keselowski, but at the same time, yes, the restart should have been delayed for another lap to get Keselowski in the right position. This was a very costly lesson for Keselowski. If he would have heeded NASCAR’s initial call, he had a good chance of winning – or at the very least, finishing top five instead of 18th.
Denny Hamlin has three speeding penalties in the first eight races. Is this a concern?
Nate Ryan: No. Hamlin’s speeding penalties receive more scrutiny than any other driver in Cup. He is culpable of putting his team in tough positions, but as Texas proved, it often gives the No. 11 team a chance to test its mettle and rebound. Though this penalty undermined a strategy call that could have put him in position to win a race, it didn’t cost him the race (he finished about where he ran in fifth), nor has his proclivity for speeding cost him a championship or playoff advancement. He and the team usually have figured it out when the stakes are at their highest.
Dustin Long: No. It’s not ideal, but I’m not going to worry too much about it. They’ve shown the speed to recover and win from such a penalty.
Daniel McFadin: Absolutely. Hamlin won at Texas despite two pit road penalties. If he’s off to the best start of his Cup car, there’s no telling how much more we’d be talking about him if not for his mistakes on pit road.
Jerry Bonkowski: There’s no one else to blame but Hamlin himself. Yes, it’s a concern that Hamlin has a heavy foot. For all we know, if he hadn’t have been caught speeding so many times, Hamlin may have had another win or two to his record by now. I understand wanting to get on and off pit road ASAP, but if this keeps up, Joe Gibbs needs to sit down with his driver to tell him to slow down.
It’s frustrating for me. It’s frustrating for the team. Pushing the edge has its shortcomings sometimes. My team has done a hell of a job making up for it in the end. Can’t wait for us to put it all together
Because this is the week of the Masters golf tournament — a tradition unlike any other, they say — what is a tradition unlike any other in NASCAR?
Nate Ryan: Not a big fan of traditions because they can impede the necessary progress for betterment. There are some Masters-esque traditions in NASCAR, but many have changed and then reverted over the years (Martinsville hot dogs, Southern 500 on Labor Day, etc.), and there are others that soon will end (Bristol night race in late August, Daytona’s July 4 race week). All of this is good if it keeps NASCAR headed in the right direction. The only tradition that matters is retaining the essence of why people attend races, which is compelling action mixed with passionate emotions.
Dustin Long: Awarding a grandfather clock to the winner at Martinsville.
Daniel McFadin: This will only be the fifth year of the tradition at this point, but I’m going with the Throwback Weekend at Darlington. It’s just a great, celebratory moment for the sport with a bunch of unique paint schemes to remind people about its deep history. I get excited with every car reveal and we’re already off to a good start with Richard Childress Racing’s cars.
Jerry Bonkowski: No question about it, the Daytona 500. The pomp and circumstances of the event – not to mention its illustrious history – is NASCAR’s pride and joy. Is it any wonder why so many non-NASCAR fans tune in or attend in-person? It’s a happening like the Super Bowl and everybody wants to see it.
Bump & Run: What should NASCAR do about qualifying?
Nate Ryan: Single-car sessions for all tracks longer than 1.5 miles. If necessary, make qualifying the last thing on Saturday or Sunday morning prerace to allow for impounding and keeping teams in race setups.
Dustin Long: What’s the purpose of qualifying? Is it about entertainment or competition? If it’s about entertainment, keep group qualifying everywhere and cut the time to maybe three minutes per round to limit how much the cars park on pit road. If it’s about competition, then eliminate group qualifying and go back to single-car runs.
Jerry Bonkowski: Simple: Depending upon whether a track is wide (i.e., Fontana) or narrow (Martinsville, Indianapolis), I think NASCAR should put only two cars (at narrow tracks) or three cars (at wider tracks) out on the track at the same time to make qualifying efforts of just one lap (after a warm-up lap). No more waiting around or playing games on pit road. Force the cars to go out and lay down their best speed/time when they’re scheduled to do so. Like I said, it’s simple.
Daniel McFadin: On tracks longer than 1.5-miles I would line cars up on pit road in single file and send them out in 15-second intervals to avoid creating a draft.
Prior to Denny Hamlin’s victory Sunday, has the Daytona 500 winner been unjustly overlooked for having the best start to a season during his 14-year Cup career?
Nate Ryan: Yes, there probably were few who realized he was second in points before Texas. Though teammate Kyle Busch has been faster, Hamlin’s consistency has been impressive, and he’s qualifying as well as at any point in his career. His best start to a Cup season deserved more recognition, but Hamlin unfairly has been overlooked often in his 14 years on the circuit.
Dustin Long: He was in the past few weeks with so much attention devoted to Team Penske and Kyle Busch. If Hamlin keeps winning, he’ll get plenty of attention.
Jerry Bonkowski: I’m not sure if I would say unjustly overlooked, but Hamlin hasn’t necessarily been in conversations about who’s the best driver in Cup thus far this season. So much focus has been on Kyle Busch and the Team Penske drivers that Hamlin kind of got lost in the shuffle. But it’s hard to ignore a guy who has two wins, six top 10s and has not finished lower than 11th in a race thus far in 2019.
Daniel McFadin: While his best start should be recognized, it hasn’t been that flashy. In the races between his wins at Daytona and Texas he never finished better than fifth and led only 15 laps.
Nate Ryan: They probably went over with a thud, but that’s also how Harvick intends them to be taken. As the team’s alpha dog, Harvick believes SHR is at peak optimization when his car is leading the way. Though his teammates were all pleased by their Texas results, it had to be jarring that the 2014 champion was bringing up the rear simply because he was the slowest. It’ll be intriguing to observe how SHR adapts if that becomes a trend as Harvick has been virtually the lead driver of every team he’s been on since his 2001 entry to Cup.
Dustin Long: Crew chief Rodney Childers also expressed his disappointment after the race on social media. This just isn’t on Harvick. Stewart-Haas Racing had all four of its drivers win races last year. Now, nearly a fifth of the way through the season, the team is winless. I wouldn’t expect anyone to be happy about that at SHR.
Jerry Bonkowski: It was merely Kevin being Kevin. He’s kind of like Kyle Busch — anything less than a win means it’s been a bad race. It also could be an indicator of the increasing frustration Harvick has had in each race, still unable to get his first win of 2019.
Daniel McFadin: While I can understand Harvick’s frustration in SHR and specifically him not winning yet, his comments are hard to accept when two teammates had their best finish of the year at Texas and all four cars have finished in the top 10 two weeks in a row.
Hendrick Motorsports had three drivers lead and two finish in the top six at Texas. What do you make of the organization’s performance?
Nate Ryan: Aside from a victory, Texas was a mission accomplished morale booster for this proud organization, which showed it still can play catch-up. After the past two weeks, it seems as if momentum is building.
Jerry Bonkowski: It’s only one race. While it certainly seems like HMS has potentially turned a corner, I won’t be fully convinced the organization is back on the right track until it has consistent multi-finishers in the top 10, not to mention race winners.
Daniel McFadin: It’s a feel good story after the previous six races, but I’m sure no one at Hendrick is completely satisfied and won’t be until this is a regular occurrence.
Should NASCAR be using more traction compound on every track after drivers hailed its efficacy at Texas?
Nate Ryan: No. Sunday’s race conditions were as much a result of the cooler weather and minimal tire wear. Turning traction compound into a weekly crutch has its pitfalls.
Dustin Long: It hasn’t always worked as intended at some tracks, but that shouldn’t deter officials from examining where traction compound can enhance the racing.
Jerry Bonkowski: I’m torn on this one. While I understand the traction compound helps, I’m also a purist in the sense I don’t like to see artificial ways to create traction. It should come from the rubber on the tires only in my mind.
Daniel McFadin: I’m all for tracks attempting, at least once, to improve racing with traction compound. There’s no harm in that.