*How big of a distraction will the A.J. Allmendinger debacle be for Penske Racing?*
Now that we’ve had a few days for the shock of Allmendinger’s suspension to wear off, it’s time to start looking ahead. While we don’t know for sure what is going to happen to Allmendinger long term, we do know that Sam Hornish Jr. is once again filling in this weekend in New Hampshire.
I can’t help but think that this isn’t a good thing for Penske Racing, and that No. 2 team especially. The distractions alone of trying to figure out what to do about it is enough to be detrimental to the organization, but they still have a dog in this fight with Brad Keselowski.
But where does that leave them? Even though Hornish will still be in the car and the team as a whole will still be competing, how much can a different driver in the cockpit help with note sharing and communicating? Maybe not much … but, then again, maybe a lot. We’ve seen that communication takes time to build up, and while Hornish has been a part of this team before, there will be an acclamation process if Hornish remains in the car long term.
Of course this is all hypothetical, but it’s worth wondering how it will affect a potentially championship contending team if the situation takes a turn for the worse for Allmendinger.
*With Army pulling out of NASCAR next year, where does that leave Ryan Newman?*
I’m not going to go into a long rant about how stupid I think all of this is, because most people seem to agree with me. Instead, let’s look at whom this impacts the most: Newman.
Newman is already in a contract year and while it seems like Stewart-Haas Racing wants to keep Newman, this has to be a blow to that plan. But where could he possibly go? The only realistic options seem to be a team adding a car—like Roush Fenway Racing or Richard Childress Racing—but otherwise there aren’t many quality rides open.
Basically, it all comes down to the dollar sign. Newman will be in the Cup Series next year, but SHR is looking less and less likely every day.
*Is there room for drivers like Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon in the Chase?*
It’s a little unnerving to think that last year’s championship runner-up, by a tiebreaker at that, might not even be in NASCAR’s playoff system. Outside of the top 10 in points and ineligible for the wild card spot, Edwards hasn’t even been _close_ to his 2011 ways.
Meanwhile, if Jeff Gordon didn’t have any bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all. In 18 starts this year, only 10 times has Gordon finished on the lead lap, and many of the incidents he’s faced this year were not of his own doing. Now sitting 17th in points without a win and far removed from any chance of a wild card, his Chase chances are slim.
Yet, they’re still there, as well as for Edwards. Edwards especially can make something happen even with just a win, which theoretically shouldn’t be very difficult for what last year proved to be a championship caliber team.
However, a win for Edwards means he’s knocking someone else out. That means either another wild card or a current Chase driver. If Edwards wins and is still outside the top 10 in points (which likely won’t happen, but stick with me) he would effectively knock Joey Logano out of the wild card spot. While that’s not exactly far-fetched, consider the fact that Edwards _hasn’t won yet_ while Logano has. Not to state the obvious, but it says a lot about Edwards’ season. As of now, it doesn’t really seem likely or possible. If Edwards wants to do it the other way and wiggle his way into the top 10, that means he’ll need to knock another driver out. Who will that be? Clint Bowyer? That’s unlikely since some upcoming tracks are some strengths of Bowyer’s. Brad Keselowski? Not going to happen. Keselowski is pretty safe no matter what happens.
It seems like these two drivers, or anyone else for that matter, are going to have some stiff competition. While I’m in no way implying that the top 12 is set, I _am_ saying that whoever ends up breaking in is going to have to earn it.
*How would fans react to another back-to-back champion?*
I know I recently said that it’s _still_ too early to make championship predictions—and I stand by that—but with Tony Stewart’s win in Daytona, this is still a discussion worth having. It was just over a year ago when Jimmie Johnson finished his five-year reign as champion, though we didn’t know it at the time. Other than Johnson fans, everyone hated it. No one likes to see the same ending to every movie they watch, and they certainly don’t want to see the same ending to every NASCAR season when they devote so much time to it every year.
However, Stewart is on a roll right now. Sure there is a long way to go, but what if he wins back-to-back on the heels of an unpopular dynasty? What’s a little bit funny about NASCAR fans is they not only criticize drivers for not winning enough, but also for winning _too much_. It’s not hard for them to tire of seeing the same driver up front every week (or every year).
While we haven’t seen an extreme example of that since last season, I don’t imagine that another back-to-back champion would have fans doing anything other than groaning, “Not again!” But I could be wrong. Personally, I don’t care who wins the championship, as long as it’s exciting. If Tony Stewart wins the next five championships the way he did last year, I’m all for it! My intuition, however, tells me I’m in the minority. Parity is a popular concept in this sport, and it seems to me that fans want to keep it that way … right?