Race Weekend Central

Four Burning Questions: Appeals, Predictions, and Nationwide Identity

*What is the point in appealing?*

The numbers were against Hendrick Motorsports when they appealed to NASCAR on Tuesday for the penalties assessed to the No. 48 team after Daytona for unapproved C-posts. NASCAR upheld the penalties (shocker!), but the team has decided to appeal one last time to NASCAR’s chief appellate officer John Middlebrook.

As I said last week, NASCAR likely won’t take back the penalties. Why am I so confident of this? Of the 145 appeals NASCAR has heard since 1999, only _31 have been reduced_, let alone overturned. That number would be a miniscule 11.

If Mr. Middlebrook is feeling especially kind, they might see a reduction in the fines or suspensions. But hear me out. There is no way they are getting those points back. NASCAR won’t ease up on the penalty that does the most damage.

Don’t get excited, though, because Johnson likely won’t need them. His two top 5s in the first three races have proven well enough that he can make up for the loss. Now if he can continue to do well while crew chief Chad Knaus is serving his suspension (which he will have to do), you might want to prepare to see the No. 48 car back inside the Chase later this season.

Reading columns from this week following Tony Stewart’s Las Vegas win, one would be forgiven for thinking this championship photo was taken in 2012.

*Why are there so many championship predictions so early?*

Notice that I said Johnson would make the _Chase_, not win the championship. The wild card system is enough for me to feel certain that he’ll at the very least be amongst the top 12 after Richmond.

The championship, however? I have no idea, and neither does anyone else as much as they would have you think they do. Let’s do a quick recap. How many TV analysts sang the praises of Denny Hamlin and talked about how he and last year’s championship-winning crew chief Darian Grubb are going to without a doubt contend for the title? Let’s do a quick count on all the columns that have been written on the various NASCAR news websites and blogs the last few days on how Stewart is the favorite to win back-to-back championships this year.

Now, let’s rewind to last year. Remember when Jeff Gordon and Alan Gustafson went to Victory Lane in Phoenix after the big crew chief swap over the off-season? And Gordon was the guy to beat for the championship? Right? No. That’s not what happened. Gordon went on to win two more races last year but, regardless of the hype surrounding the new dynamic duo in the sport, Gordon had absolutely no say in the 2011 championship and finished eighth instead.

Perhaps a better example is Matt Kenseth’s 2009 season. He won the first two races that year … and then fell off the face of the earth, missing the Chase and failing to win another race all season.

Bottom line? No one has a clue who is going to contend for the title. At this point in the season, drivers are still getting acclimated, especially those who have moved to another team or are dealing with personnel changes. Contenders will come and go, and at the end of this year we’ll see how much has changed. So sit back and enjoy the show for now, because this point in the season will have little if any say in the final race of the year.

*Is the Nationwide Series becoming relevant again?*

This might slightly contradict my last point, but it’s an important topic to mention. Two of the first three winners this season were Nationwide Series regulars, and the driver that wasn’t—James Buescher—wasn’t a Cup Series double-dipper, but rather a Truck Series regular. While I know that it’s still early, those are very encouraging numbers for a series who has been struggling with its identity for several years now. Heck, for a while there it seemed like driver development was even at a standstill.

While Phoenix winner Elliott Sadler isn’t a development driver, Buescher and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are climbing the NASCAR ladder and making a name for themselves. The fact that these drivers are not only contending with but _beating_ the Cup Series regulars who still enjoy a Saturday afternoon drive in the series is a miracle enough, but it’s even more comforting when they are younger drivers working their way up the ranks the old-fashioned way. Drivers like Austin Dillon, Trevor Bayne (if he can get some solid funding locked down), and Justin Allgaier are three more shining stars who have proven themselves against the big guns, and most regular fans of the sport know who they are.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of work to be done in the Nationwide Series. But I believe that, finally, it is moving in the right direction.

*Are the fans happier now than they were last year?*

Unless I’ve missed something, I haven’t noticed near as much griping about the racing, TV ratings, or attendance lately. While TV ratings are down from last year, they are still doing pretty well when running up against other sports and the grandstands have been mostly full. Though numbers are either equal or slightly down from last year, it doesn’t seem as many people are noticing.

Though I guess it’s possible I’ve learned to block all of that out. In which case, carry on and prepare to hear me yell at you later on in the season.

“Contact Summer Dreyer”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/28526/

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