*FACT: Paul Menard Is A Chase Contender*
Could you imagine if you read the previous sentence three years, two years, heck even 12 months ago? You’d have me committed to an insane asylum. But eight races into the Sprint Cup season, Menard’s emerged as the biggest upset candidate to make the playoffs. He’s got the team (Richard Childress Racing), the chemistry with crew chief “Slugger” Labbe and four-plus years of Cup experience under his belt. Most importantly, he’s grown out of his career label, a rich kid who doubles as an occasional “intermediate track” specialist: right now, he owns a top 5 at a short track (Bristol), an intermediate (Texas), plus an average finish of 10.5 at the restrictor plate speedways of Daytona and Talladega. Among those who can’t say the same: Denny Hamlin, his teammate Jeff Burton, and Kasey Kahne.
Is Menard capable of getting over the hump? It all depends on how well Richard Childress Racing can juggle four cars. But after making it through April virtually unscathed, heading to tracks like Charlotte where Menard can flex some muscle the presence of his car in and around the top 10 can no longer be ignored.
*FICTION: The Past Champion’s Provisional Is Still Needed*
For years, I’ve championed this special rule that allows a past champion without the speed to qualify to make the field – as long as they don’t abuse it (you’re allowed a maximum of six per year). Back in the day, when the provisional system was different that option was used plenty of times, for competitive drivers who’d simply suffered through a bit of an off weekend. Now? Only two drivers are left eligible (Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte) and both trade it around like a retirement pension to keep themselves employed. The low point came at ‘Dega, where the only reason Elliott stepped foot inside the No. 46 car was because of his automatic spot in the field; once the starting spot was assured, the 1988 Cup champ jumped out after the race’s first caution in favor of regular J.J. Yeley. That made him a hired gun simply to circumvent the rules… and isn’t winning the race supposed to be the actual goal?
Especially considering the present circumstances, with the top 35 system in place NASCAR has no better time than the present to get rid of this rule with minimum resistance. It pains me to say it, but the idea has outlived its usefulness… it’s time.
*FACT: Travis Kvapil Should Focus On Trucks*
It’s been an awful start to the year for Travis Kvapil. Three DNF’s in eight races have left his team over 30 points outside of a “locked in” spot, making qualifying on speed top priority and leading to a Texas DNQ. He has yet to finish on the lead lap, has wrecked multiple times and hasn’t yet finished inside the top 25. Clearly, his No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford has regressed compared to this point in 2010.
Which begs the question for Kvapil: why bother? The team is struggling to find sponsorship, and in the meantime his full-time Camping World Truck Series ride – owned by Randy Moss – has suffered along with it. Two DNF’s for wrecks led to a rocky start, and even now he finds himself a distant 26th in points for a program whose goal is to win a championship.
It’s the Trucks, you see, not the Cup side is where Kvapil is guaranteed equipment capable of winning on any given night. If that’s the case, why take the time to fix a big league underdog when the grass is greener on the other side? He’s been in this position before, running for single-car PPI Motorsports before their untimely demise and knows how these Cup opportunities can disappear into thin air. Wouldn’t you rather be happier putting your heart and soul into fixing a championship-caliber organization, no matter the level versus getting your butt kicked in the major leagues every week?
*FICTION: Nashville Will Be Won By A Nationwide Regular*
Heading into the Easter Cup off week, NASCAR’s focus will turn towards its Nationwide Series, gearing up for its first standalone event of the season Saturday at Nashville. With a special chance to shine, some of the series regulars battling for the title hope to take center stage; Elliott Sadler, Aric Almirola, and Justin Allgaier are just some of the dozen or so wheelmen hoping to catch the right breaks and reach Victory Lane.
Except there’s one problem with their plan: they’re not alone. Five full-time Cup drivers are sitting on the entry list, including last week’s winner Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and David Reutimann. Each of those men are wheeling top-notch equipment, capable of dominating the race and visiting Victory Lane without their Nationwide “brethren” catching so much as a sniff of their rear bumper. My bet’s on Edwards, but when it comes to the big picture NASCAR’s hemorrhaging big money; how much, and how often can you sell your biggest stars when they’re taking away opportunities for other, just as talented individuals?