In the first part of my series, I talked about the changes NASCAR needs to make, at least schedule, field, and qualifying wise.
Next, I’d like to dive deeper into topics such as criticism, the lower series, and rule changes.
Cup Guys In The Lower Series
I’ve pretty much beat this topic to death over and over again in previous posts, but it bears repeating. Get the Cup guys out of the lower series. Limiting them (at least the ones with more than five years of experience) to no more than ten races has not helped at all so far. Only two Xfinity regulars (Ryan Reed at Daytona and Justin Allgaier at Phoenix) have won races. Even though the Cup guys can’t run in Xfinity playoff races, they can still run the majority of the schedule.
Team Penske is only running their 22 car in nine races. Even if they’re not running for a driver or owner’s championship, if I’m a team owner, I would give some additional races to Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, and any K&N series driver looking to get their feet wet in the Xfinity Series.
If I’m the CGR owner, and I see that Kyle Larson is the points leader, I’m pulling him out of that seat and running Tyler Reddick the rest of the season, so Reddick can gain experience and Larson can focus on the Cup championship.
Furthermore, I would limit the number of races Cup guys can run in lower series to no more than five races with more than three years of experience. And this rule will be strictly enforced in order to give the series its own identity.
Criticism and Rule Changes
A lot of NASCAR drivers, and some media hardly, if ever, criticize the sport of NASCAR. It’s as if the sport is run with an iron fist. Ever notice that some of the changes NASCAR makes, there’s very little, if any objection to it, lest there be “double-secret probation”?
If I ran NASCAR, I would listen to fans and drivers when it comes to rule changes, points format, etc. The core base, even though it’s getting smaller, helped make the sport what it is, and should have more of a say in how the sport works. I don’t feel as if the Fan Council is really helping at all.
And if the drivers don’t like a certain change or certain rules, there should be room in the NASCAR rule book (that has never been made public) for change. Rule changes should have room to be repealed over the course of the season and not simply thrown on everyone at short notice.
Part three, which will be up either Friday or Saturday, will go into what to do in the event of driver confrontations, increasing the ratings, how the sport is broadcast, and how to sustain good momentum.
During the first quarter of the season, I noticed that there have been a lot of complaints about how NASCAR has been going downhill, with the implementations of the caution clock, the stage breaks, retirements of superstars such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., to name a few. Here is part one of what would change if I was to become a NASCAR CEO. If you have any other ideas that I may have missed, please don’t hesitate to share them.
Changing the schedule would be one of the first things that I do. To be honest, 36 races is far too many in a season. I would decrease the number of races to 31. I would also cut one race from several tracks (Las Vegas, Kansas, Texas, Phoenix, New Hampshire). None of those tracks really needed two dates in the first place.
I would move Las Vegas to after Daytona, place Chicago back in its post-Coke Zero 400 slot, Keep one New Hampshire date in September. (Weather is cooler in the fall as opposed to the summer), and make Phoenix, Atlanta, and Homestead the final three races of the season for the Cup, Xfinity, and Truck series. This makes sense, because Atlanta being near the end is a nod to the old days, and the weather in early November is better than late February (unless someone from Georgia tells me otherwise).
I would drop one Texas race, one Phoenix race, Indianapolis, and Pocono and move the New Hampshire date to Mother’s day weekend. There is no reason for the Xfinity series to race at the Brickyard or Pocono. New Hampshire going back to Mother’s Day (preferably a Saturday) would be the first step in giving the Xfinity Series its own identity again.
For the Camping World Truck series I would cut the fall Texas race and the Pocono race. The Trucks season would have 21 races in a season, with Texas, Kansas, Las Vegas, and Mosport being standalone events.
Depending on the quality of the racing product, the less races there are in a season, along with cutting the prices of tickets, I feel that more fans would be motivated to come to the track for race weekend.
I would also outlaw stage racing. That is reserved for rally cars, not stock cars.
NASCAR does not need breaks like other sports. NASCAR is not, never has been, and never will be a stick and ball sport, and Brian France and Co. need to stop making it that way. There was nothing wrong with the original way of how races were run, but they seem to know what’s best for the fan base so…
Racing back to the caution would still be outlawed, simply for safety reasons. However, the wave-around rule would be abolished, as will the double-file restarts. (Except lap down cars to the inside). There wouldn’t have any green-white-checkered finishes either. If a race has a certain scheduled distance, then it will go that distance, no questions asked, and if the race ends under a yellow flag condition, then it is what it is.
The Charter System
In my opinion, the charter system is one of the worst things NASCAR has ever implemented outside of the playoff system, which we’ll talk about later. The charter system cut down fields from 43 cars to 40, and according to this deal, only 36 cars makes a full field. It also means that no teams can run more than three cars, and a team can’t run a car with a rookie driver for a select amount of races, which is completely stupid.
Cup fields have dwindled over the past two years, and stuff like this doesn’t help at all. This year, only 42 cars attempted one of the most prestigious races in NASCAR, the Daytona 500.
Gone are the days where 50 (or more) drivers would show up to races, and several different teams would attempt races to break into the series and make a name for themselves. But the charter system dissuades that completely, as there are not enough rides opening up for some of the top Xfinity drivers that are coming up through the ranks. I would disband the charter system completely and allow teams to run a car for rookies. I would also re-expand the field to 43 cars. Less cars means less cautions, but it also means less potential winners, another problem that NASCAR has suffered.
Of a 36-38 car field, only about 14-15 drivers have a realistic chance of winning a race on any given Sunday, and it’s been like that for the past two to three years.
There was nothing wrong with the old qualifying format. I would go back to the single-car format that worked so well over the first 60+ years of the sport.
Here are some facts from the last three years.
12 different drivers qualified for the pole in 2014. Two of them were from underdog teams (David Gilliland with Front Row and Brian Vickers with Michael Waltrip Racing). This is the lowest number since 11 in 2009.
15 different drivers qualified for the pole in 2015. (AJ Allmendinger won both poles on road courses for JTG Daugherty Racing), and 14 qualified from the pole last season.
NASCAR keeps on screwing with things that were never broken in the first place to try to cater to a fan base that could, in all honesty, care less about the sport, while ignoring their core. The Monster sponsorship is a good start, because it’s the closest to Winston that we’ll get. This stage format with playoff points stuff seems very contrived to me, even though the intention is to make the regular season matter more. I prefer going back to the Latford System because it actually made sense. Even if a driver clinched the championship before the season finale, they would have earned it over the course over the entire season, instead of potentially losing because of one bad race in the playoffs.
Three potential scenarios can come out of the current playoff system.
Scenario A: A driver could potentially be barely in the top 30 in points after Richmond, and win one race in each of the three “playoff rounds”, and the season finale, and win the championship.
Scenario B: A driver could win no races at all, have a so-so season, and somehow win the title without winning a race.
Scenario C: A driver could have one of the best seasons in the modern era, winning 14-15 races, and one screw-up at Homestead can cost him the championship.
Part 2 of the “If I Ran NASCAR” series will come early next week. Next week’s post will focus on the problem of Cup drivers in the lower series, rule changes, and the fear of criticizing NASCAR.
I have to say, even though I was skeptical about the races being broken up into stages, for some reason, I actually like this new move as a wrinkle for how teams strategize from week to week. The only thing that I don’t like is the fact that there are mandatory yellow flags at the end of the stages, instead a constant continuation of the race.
I have to give a special shoutout to Ryan Newman for taking the win at Phoenix International Raceway, picking up his first victory since 2013 and qualifying for the playoffs. Maybe more teams will stay out in the event of a late-race caution instead of coming in?
It’s funny how karma works, especially when it comes to Kyle Busch, who, as a lot of NASCAR fans remember, tried to wreck Joey Logano at the end of last week’s race at Las Vegas and then tried to fight him. Fast forward a week later, Joey Logano cuts down a tire when Kyle Busch has the victory well in hand. Is this the start of a new rivalry?
Along the way, with the victories, the stage wins, and the racing product, there are some pleasant early-season surprises that I’d like to mention.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Kyle Larson leading the points. He has three consecutive second place finishes and was leading the Daytona 500 before running out of fuel in turn one, handing the victory to Kurt Busch. It’s not a matter of time IF he wins multiple races this season, but WHEN he wins them. This year may be his breakthrough into championship contention, and thus far, he is proving it.
Chase Elliott in third place. He was leading the Daytona 500 before he was passed with a few laps to go. He has added two top five finishes and a stage victory. And like Kyle Larson, it’s only a matter of time before he reaches victory lane this season.
Ryan Blaney currently standing in sixth place. If he had a strong enough draft, then he would likely have won the Daytona 500, and he has been qualifying better thus far. Can he keep it up as the season goes on?
It is no surprise to see Cup drivers winning Xfinity races, such as the cases of Kyle Busch (Atlanta) and Joey Logano (Las Vegas), nor is it a surprise to see Elliott Sadler leading the points, and Justin Allgaier in early contention, especially with his victory in Phoenix. But here are some more special shoutouts:
William Byron, currently in 2nd place in points. The kid has talent, as evidenced last year when he scored the most victories in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, finishing in fifth place in his rookie season. He’s a shoo in to make the Xfinity playoffs, but it will be a matter of time before he gets his first career Xfinity win.
Ryan Reed, who picked up his second career win at Daytona, and is currently sitting in 3rd place in points. He has improved from year to year, from one win (his only top five and top ten finish) of 2015, to seven top tens the following year. He is doing well thus far, and if he keeps it up, he will be a contender for the championship.
Bubba Wallace rounding out the top five in points with three consecutive sixth-place finishes, despite not having a full-season sponsor, Daniel Hemric in sixth (recovering from a DNF at the season-opening race at Daytona) On a side note, once their careers are over, they both need to go into reality television. I have a feeling their show would pull in some good ratings.
Dakota Armstrong rounding out the top ten. JGL Racing has some speed, and has consistenly finished in the top twenty. If those top twenties can turn into top tens, this team is definitely a wildcard to make the Xfinity playoffs.
Camping World Truck Series
Kaz Grala becoming the youngest driver to win at Daytona after the chaos that was the final lap, and Christopher Bell, picking up where he left off last season after beating Kyle Busch at Atlanta are two impressive early surprises. It’s a long season, and things can change, for all series.
I will be updating in four weeks time to see if some of the same drivers are at the top of the standings, who has dropped off, and who is making moves.
This weekend will go down in history, as one of the more unique weekends kicking off the NASCAR season.
On Friday night, 18 year old Kaz Grala won the season-opening Truck series race, that was marred by a huge wreck that saw Matt Crafton flip over, collecting Stage 1 & 2 winner Johnny Sauter, Grant Enfinger, and others.
Representing for the underdogs was Austin Wayne Self in second, Chase Briscoe in third, Joe Nemechek in fifth, Scott Lagasse Jr. in seventh, and Myatt Snider (son of Marty Snider) rounding out the top ten.
The five-minute rule in regards to fixing up trucks to run at minimum speed did not really affect a lot of drivers, as John Hunter Nemechek came in 4th, Regan Smith (despite wrecking on the last lap) finished in 6th, and Christopher Bell (who nearly turned over) finished in 8th.
The very next day, Ryan Reed won a race that saw two different big wrecks and two different red-flags. He picked up his second career win.
Representing for the underdogs was Scott Lagasse Jr. for the second day in a row, this time with a sixth-place finish, Joey Gase in seventh, Garrett Smithley in eighth, and Harrison Rhodes rounding out the top ten.
Despite having some engine issues in the second segment, upcoming phenom William Byron came from two laps down and finished in ninth place. Segment one and two winner Elliott Sadler seemed to have the car to beat before ending up in a late wreck. Nevertheless, it was a good points day for him.
Sunday’s Daytona 500 featured some clean racing throughout the first two segments, with only a couple of cautions. Kyle Busch won the first segment and Kevin Harvick won the second one. Danica Patrick finished in tenth and fifth in both segments (in fact, all four Stewart-Haas cars finished in the top seven in segment two). But all three drivers would later get caught up in a big wreck in the final segment.
It appeared that Chase Elliott would win the race just like his father did many years ago, but lost the lead to Kyle Larson, who in turn ran out of fuel on the final lap, giving the win to the driver sponsored by Monster, Kurt Busch.
All in all, the racing was still exciting in parts, but the format still doesn’t really make any sense in my opinion.
Let’s just see what happens in a few days at Atlanta.
A new season is officially upon us. After a wild off-season, the 2017 Daytona 500 is just three days away.
Despite some of the changes that NASCAR has made, especially to the points and championship formats, as a fan of NASCAR for sixteen years, I have decided that I am going to at least give this new format a chance.
I do not like the new changes at all, most notably the fact that races are broken up into segments instead of being decided naturally, basically ensuring that NASCAR will never have a caution-free race for the rest of its history. NASCAR is a sport that has never needed “quarters” or “periods” for any reason, but evidently the “powers that be” know what is best for the fans…
Also not a fan of the new points system (I’m an old school guy and think they should go back to the system from 1974-2003). I can understand part of where they were going with rewarding the top 10 drivers with points after each segment, but in my mind, it’s a lot easier to reward the points after the race.
It’s nice that the regular season matters again, and that the regular season points winner will have an advantage going into the MENCS playoffs, but it makes no sense to reset the final four in points after the fall Phoenix race. Why not let the points leader go into Homestead-Miami with the advantage that he gained over the course of the season? At least the first few Chase iterations let the points leader enjoy his advantage, even if it was over the course of nine races.
Here are just a few predictions I have for the season:
Chase Elliott will win not have a sophomore slump. After an incredible rookie season, his sophomore year will be even better, as he will multiple races this year and contend for the championship. (Winning the pole for the Daytona 500 Sunday will definitely go a long way towards helping those chances) He has stepped up in a big way as a replacement for four-time champion Jeff Gordon.
Clint Bowyer will have better results than he did last season. This goes without saying. Is he going to get a victory? No. He likely won’t make the Chase playoffs either, but he will have at least one top five and multiple top tens this season.
Daniel Suarez, last year’s Xfinity Series champion, has some big shoes to fill, replacing the suddenly retired Carl Edwards. He will have some good finishes, and will make the Playoffs. It will be a dogfight between him and Erik Jones for the Rookie of The Year.
Both Roush Fenway Racing drivers will win this year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Bristol and Trevor Bayne at either Talladega or the Coke Zero 400. Their results will continue to improve, and Stenhouse Jr. will make it to the second round of the Chase. Darrell Wallace Jr. and Ryan Reed will be called up to Cup for a few races at some point during the season.
Martin Truex Jr. will make it to the final four, including grabbing a victory in a must-win situation in one of the early rounds of the playoffs.
Erik Jones will win a race this season. This guy’s got a lot of talent, as evidenced in being the youngest Camping World Trucks champion in 2015, and narrowly missing out on the Xfinity Series title the year after. Even if he doesn’t, with a teammate like Martin Truex Jr. (who has risen as a contender for the championship the past couple years) the sky is the limit for this 21-year-old Michigan native.
Joey Logano will make the final four for the third time in four seasons. At 26 years old, this guy has just been getting it done lately. He won the Daytona 500 a couple years ago, and ever since he moved to Penske Racing, he has finished no further than eighth in the points standings. I see him winning multiple races (including the Brickyard) and being in contention for the title throughout the season.
Jimmie Johnson will qualify for the final four this season and contend to win his eighth championship. Say what you will about the Cup points formats and his crew chief, they have just been getting things done when it matters. He has finished no worse than 11th in Cup points his ENTIRE career.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will retire after the 2017 season. But he will win at least one race during the season. I hope I’m wrong about his retirement, but the man has taken quite a few hits during his career. Either way, 25+ wins (two of them Daytona 500s) is nothing to be ashamed of.
Eliminated In Round 1: Trevor Bayne, Daniel Suarez, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones
Eliminated In Round 2: Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Eliminated In Round 3: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott
Final Four: Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin
Champion: Jimmie Johnson
Rookie of The Year: Erik Jones
Even when all is said and done, as I said before, I’ve been a fan of NASCAR for sixteen years and I can’t just up and divorce the sport cold turkey. No matter what, I will always watch at worst, the Daytona 500, the Coke Zero 400, the holiday races, and the season finale.
Will the racing be as exciting as it was last year? Will the sport recover from its recent downspiral, I don’t know, and so far, things are not trending in the right direction with some of the decisions that have been made. But we’ll just have to sit back and see what happens through the first few races.
Well, folks, another year of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing has come and gone in nine months. Now that the year’s over, it’s time to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly that described the 2016 Sprint Cup Season.
Depending on how you look at it, Jimmie Johnson captured his 7th Sprint Cup championship, tying NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. Including his top 10 points finishes in the Busch Series in 2000 and 2001, the only season that he finished outside of the top 10 is 2014. Chase format aside, those are very impressive statistics.
The Daytona 500, where Denny Hamlin held off Martin Truex Jr. by a fender, and Matt Kenseth, the leader going into turn three on the final lap, ended up finishing in 13th. Not to be ignored, Regan Smith also ended up in 8th place for Tommy Baldwin Racing, ensuring that kids ate free at Golden Corral the next day.
Penske Racing’s restrictor plate domination, with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano taking three of the four plate races.
Kyle Larson scoring his first career victory at Michigan International Speedway, breaking a 99-race winless streak and punching his ticket into the Sprint Cup Chase grid.
Chase Elliott, despite not winning a race, won the pole for the Daytona 500, amassed 10 top 5s and 17 top 10s, finished in the top 10 in points, and also won the Rookie of the Year.
Chris Buescher picking up his first career victory and second ever for Front Row Motorsports in a fog-shortened race at Pocono in August.
Depending on how you look at it, Jimmie Johnson winning his 7th Sprint Cup championship, tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. A lot of people feel that Jimmie Johnson isn’t a real champion due to his titles coming in the Chase. With the regular season format, Jimmie would only be a two time champion, in 2009 and 2013.
Tony Stewart retiring from NASCAR after the season. He was one of the last remaining drivers that was unafraid to speak his mind, and drove with fire throughout his career. It will be really sad to see him go, and he definitely will be missed at the track.
Greg Biffle leaving Roush Racing and most likely retiring. I remember watching the Busch Series races where he was dominant week in and week out. It’s too bad he never got that elusive Cup championship to go with his Busch and Truck Series championships.
Brian Scott suddenly retiring to spend time with more family. Even though he didn’t have a lot of good finishes, it seems very sudden for a guy who could have hung around for a while. Nevertheless, I respect his decision and wish all the best for him and his family.
The charter system, instituted in February, a few weeks before the Daytona 500, guarantees that 36 teams will automatically qualify for every race for the next nine years. This system takes out the fifth car that some teams usually will run for up to seven for rookies. I would have liked to have seen Daniel Suarez run a JGR cup car for a race or two, like Chase Elliott did for Hendrick Motorsports last year, but it looks like those days are over. This charter system also prevents smaller teams from attempting to run in the Cup Series, forcing teams and drivers to be “on loan”. There are too many good drivers coming up, and not enough rides.
The caution clock being instituted in the Truck Series. This is ridiculous because it guarantees that there will be no caution-free races ever. It’s only a matter of time before this nonsense makes it to the Xfinity and Cup Series.
Some of the finishes to the races this year. I’m not pointing fingers or blaming any specific teams for their tires going down. But I’m not gonna lie, some of these finishes seem pretty suspicious to myself and the common fan.
Pure Michigan 400: Chase Elliott leads with 13 to go, win in sight, Michael Annett cuts a tire. On the ensuing restart, Chase spins tires, and Kyle Larson wins.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400: Chase Elliott leads with 3 to go, Michael McDowell cuts a tire. On the ensuing restart, Martin Truex Jr. passed Ryan Blaney to win the race.
Can-Am 500: Matt Kenseth was 1 1/2 laps from punching his ticket to the final four, when Michael McDowell cut a tire. On the ensuing restart, Alex Bowman blocked Kyle Busch, inadvertently putting Kenseth in the wall, eliminating him.
Ford EcoBoost 400: Carl Edwards has the dominant car, a yellow comes out for Dylan Lupton “spinning”. On the ensuing restart, Edwards goes to block, and hits the wall, causing a huge wreck, leading to a red flag period. Jimmie Johnson then goes on to win the race and the championship.
All in all, if I had to grade 2016, I would give it a C. I hope that NASCAR, with Monster Energy Drink being a new sponsor, will turn things around for the better.
I don’t have a lot to say about the truck race, other than for the most part it didn’t have a lot of drama, outside of passes for position, the way racing should be. William Byron ended up winning his 7th race of the year, bouncing back from last week’s disappointment at Phoenix. Johnny Sauter ended up winning the championship, like he would have done under last year’s format, only he would have beaten Byron by three points for the championship.
Shoutouts go to:
Tyler Reddick for finishing 2nd. He won a race this year, and although he didn’t make the Chase this year, he is, nonetheless, a solid driver. Let’s see what he does for Ganassi next year in the Xfinity Series.
K&N West Pro Series driver Noah Gragson for scoring a top-15 finish is his second ever Truck series start. He’s going to a team that is always a force to be reckoned with in Kyle Busch Motorsports. Can he do what Erik Jones and William Byron did before him and contend for the Truck championship?
Daniel Suarez led 133 laps out of 200, capturing the Xfinity Championship. But the race was not without some controversy. Late in the race, Cole Whitt, racing for Tri-Star Motorsports, opted not to pit under the final caution, taking the lead. The strategy backfired, as he got a poor restart, holding up Erik Jones and Elliott Sadler, costing them as shot at the championship. But under the regular format, Elliott Sadler would have been the rightful champion. I can’t place any blame on Cole Whitt for doing what he did. He was only doing what his crew chief told him.
Rather, it’s the Xfinity Chase format that is to blame. Without this, Elliott Sadler would have already clinched the championship and the controversial finish would just be a footnote. Even though Daniel Suarez will go down in history as the first foreign-born NASCAR driver to win a championship, breaking barriers in the process, it would have been a lot more special if he did it over the course of the entire season.
Ryan Sieg finishing 12th. A small team such as theirs making the Xfinity Chase is a BIG accomplishment in and of itself. With some more funding, who’s to say they won’t contend for wins?
JJ Yeley finishing 13th. He ran solid all season long for the #44 team.
Cole Custer finishing 17th. He has sponsorship and has shown that he can run up front. Can he break through next season and contend for the Xfinity Championship?
Cole Whitt finishing 18th. It was a gamble that didn’t quite work out, but you can’t blame a small team for trying.
The race and potentially the championship was Carl Edwards’ to lose, but a questionable yellow flag came out with 14 laps to go, jumbling up the field for the ensuing restart.
If the race plays out naturally, like it would have in the Winston Cup era, then Carl Edwards takes home his first championship. Unfortunately, as has been proven over the past few years, a NASCAR race isn’t a race without some added “Game 7” drama. The yellow in question came out when Dylan Lupton supposedly got loose, bunching the field up, leading to the final pit stops, and the ensuing big wreck coming after, taking out several drivers. This sequence of events cost Kyle Larson, who led the most laps in the race, the victory for the second year in a row, leaving many fans wondering if NASCAR deliberately set it up so that Jimmie Johnson would win, despite not running that well during the duration of the race.
How “Debris” Cautions Have Affected The Outcome of Races
Back in the day, NASCAR wouldn’t even call yellows if someone spun out and got back going. Now, they throw the caution if a car scrubs the wall or gets a little loose, not to mention the “debris” cautions that have plagued a lot of races over the past decade or so.
With the advent of the mysterious “debris” cautions, a lot of longtime NASCAR fans feel as if the races are rigged. And they definitely have a legitimate beef, when such cautions are called during races, in turn leading to more cautions. The fact that this has not been addressed by Brian France is very troubling.
Three examples stand out.
The 2005 Ford 400. Casey Mears was winning, and a debris caution was called with just over ten laps to go, bunching up the field and setting up a late restart.
The 2015 Ford Ecoboost 400, when a yellow flag came out just as Kyle Larson was catching Brad Keselowski for the race lead, setting up for another final restart in which Kyle Busch ended up winning the race and capturing the championship.
The most notorious example is when Matt Kenseth was leading with less than 15 to go, and a mysterious “debris” caution comes out, preventing a fuel-mileage finish. On the ensuing pit stop, Matt Kenseth ended up breaking an axle. Then, Kurt Busch took the lead, victory lane in sight, and a yellow comes out again for “debris”. Another yellow comes out, creating another restart, and Brad Keselowski ended up winning the race.
If Brian France really cares about the direction of NASCAR in the future, he will step down before next season and hand the reigns over to someone that knows what they are doing and truly cares about the fans that make this sport popular. Appealing to the casual fan has not worked, sad to say. I’ve been a NASCAR fan for over 15 years. I came up during one of the most memorable seasons in NASCAR history, survived the first iteration of the Chase, the Car of tomorrow, the fake debris cautions, and the Cup guys double dipping in the lower series. But now, I highly doubt I will be watching many races outside the Daytona 500 next year.
On Friday night, in a caution-filled truck race, Truck series standout William Byron was pacing the field, leading the most laps, appearing to head towards his seventh win on the season, and a ticket into the Final 4. Sadly, his championship dreams went up in smoke with ten laps to go, handing the win to Daniel Suarez, who earned his first career Truck Series victory.
This is one of the many reasons why the playoff format is an absolute disgrace to NASCAR. If the season is allowed to play out naturally, the championships would come down to Johnny Sauter and William Byron in the Camping World Truck series, Elliott Sadler would have clinched the championship by Phoenix in the Xfinity Series, and the Cup title would be decided between Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick.
Even if the championship is decided before the season finale, it is for the good of the sport that the title fight plays out naturally instead of using a gimmicky playoff format that the fans did not want, yet the powers that be insisted on having that “Game 7” moment and expanding it to the lower series.
Even though the playoff format gives underdogs such as Blake Koch a better chance of contending for a championship, we don’t need a “chase grid” in each series to determine the champion. NASCAR is not a stick and ball sport and never will be. The absurdity of this format is driving a lot of the hardcore base away from the sport in order to appeal to the casual fans. It is not right for a driver to have a dominant season and have one bad race eliminate him or her from the championship.
In order for NASCAR to turn around, it would behoove them to drop the playoff format and go back to determining the championship over the duration of the entire season. But the brass likely won’t listen. All us NASCAR fans can do is hope and pray that things change.
The NASCAR season is drawing to a close, with just two races remaining. Next up is Phoenix Raceway, in which each series will have its final four contenders racing for the championship at Homestead.
In the Sprint Cup, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson both clinched their spots with wins at Martinsville and Texas, respectively. One would think that Kevin Harvick would be in contention to win at Phoenix, with his great track record over the past three years. He also has never been eliminated since the playoff format began in 2014. He’s definitely gonna be one to watch.
Can Joey Logano hold on to advance to Miami, like he did in 2014? He finished in 2nd place last year at Phoenix, in a rain-shortened race, one spot short of advancing to the final four in a season which he won six races. Would he have won if last year’s race ran to completion? We will never know?
Since it’s official that at least one Joe Gibbs car will be left out of the final 4, it’s come down to Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Kyle Busch, the defending champion.
Kyle Busch is the defending champion, and currently is tied for the last final 4 spot. Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth are tied, just a single point behind. For Matt Kenseth to reach the final four, it would be somewhat of a redemption after being suspended for the last two races for wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville.
Kurt Busch needs a win if he has any hopes of advancing.
XFINITY SERIES Round of 8
No driver has punched their ticket to Miami, but Daniel Suarez and Elliott Sadler are in the best position. They have been battling neck and neck this season. For Sadler, this season, in a way, is a comeback for the former Sprint Cup veteran. Suarez’ success should come as no surprise considering he and Erik Jones are part of the dynamic Joe Gibbs Racing.
Erik Jones, last year’s truck champion, managed to advance to the Round of 8 despite a late wreck at Kentucky. He’s currently six points to the good, but things can always change.
Blake Koch is the real underdog story. He sits a single point over Justin Allgaier. His chances of advancing to the final four depend on him outrunning Allgaier. If Kaulig Racing can make it to the championship round, that, in and of itself, would be a great accomplishment, and hopefully can lead to him getting a decent Cup ride. Either way the results play out at Phoenix, Kaulig Racing has nothing to be ashamed of for their efforts this year.
Ryan Reed, at five points behind 4th place, can still point his way in, but he will need a bit of help to do so. Darrell Wallace Jr. and Brendan Gaughan, due to their troubles at Kansas, are in a must-win situation in order to punch their ticket into the final round.
Camping World Truck Series Round of 6
Johnny Sauter, with two wins, has already clinched a spot in the championship round. William Byron, the outstanding rookie with six wins this season, is looking to punch his ticket and become Kyle Busch Motorsports’ second consecutive truck series champion, also unseating Erik Jones as the youngest truck champion. Christopher Bell, sitting three points above the cut line, has the same aspirations.
Longtime Truck Series veteran Matt Crafton is sitting in 4th place, one point ahead of winless Timothy Peters. Ben Kennedy is likely going to have to win to get in, unless some chaos happens early in the race.
I was watching the “Abandoned” documentary about North Wilkesboro. And I highly recommend it. It is really sad that NASCAR left the track, which was the first sanctioned speedway in NASCAR history, in such disarray.
If NASCAR is going to remove races, at least they would make some sort of attempt to keep the track area in good shape so that there would be some form of racing there. But, that would sadly make too much sense to the NASCAR brass of today. The fact that this track is sitting broken and damaged is really sad. This track and North Carolina Speedway, even though they are not near any major highways, nevertheless produced great racing in the past.
To be honest, I don’t remember North Wilkesboro too well, outside of the ESPN Classic highlights of the 1989 race when Dale Earnhardt and Ricky Rudd battled for the win, and Jeff Gordon winning the final race at the famed track in October 1996.
However, I do remember a few races from the early 2000s era at North Carolina Speedway, when I started watching NASCAR. These races include:
2001: Steve Park holding off Bobby Labonte to win for DEI, one week after the tragic loss of Dale Earnhardt Sr. at Daytona.
Later that fall, when Kenny Wallace won a Busch race after Jeff Green ran out of fuel, handing the Busch Series championship to Dale Sr.’s successor, Kevin Harvick, and finished one spot short of a weekend sweep and DEI sweep.
2002: Johnny Benson holding off Mark Martin to pick up his only career victory.
2003: Dale Jarrett holding off Kurt Busch in the closing laps to win the February race, and in November, when Bill Elliott picked up his final career win, underdog Tony Raines in the unsponsored BACE entry finished 6th, and Matt Kenseth winning the final Winston Cup championship.
And last but not least, early 2004: When Matt Kenseth held off rookie Kasey Kahne to win the final race at Rockingham.
And, not to forget, Rockingham was also host to the end of the season 76 Pit Crew Challenge, and hosted a couple CWTS races as well.
If the almighty dollar did not rule over NASCAR, then wouldn’t it make sense to fix up North Wilkesboro to the point where racing can return to the track? I could definitely see the K&N Series and the Truck Series, then eventually the Xfinity and Cup Series returning.
For those of you that were fans of the sport, what are your favorite memories of North Carolina and North Wilkesboro Speedway?