Welcome to Friday Faceoff! What do you get when you take some hot-button NASCAR topics and hand them over to our dedicated and… er, opinionated staff? A little disagreement and a whole lot of thought-provoking insight! Check out this week’s edition to see what everyone is arguing… um, we mean, discussing this week!
NASCAR announced its 2015 Sprint Cup rules package this week which will see reduced downforce and a reduction in horsepower among numerous other things from a test ban to rain tires on road courses. What will these moves do to change what fans see on the racetrack…and are they enough?
Amy Henderson, Managing Editor: I think fans will see more competitive racing in 2015, but we’ll need to wait until winter test sessions to see exactly what the changes will do for the cars. I think they still have a ways to go—the cars are still too low to the ground, and there really needs to be some areas where teams can work more creatively if there’s going to be a real separation in competition at the top. It’s great to see NASCAR making some changes to improving the racing, but this is the first step of (hopefully) many they will need to take.
Justin Tucker, Contributing Writer: I think the horsepower reduction and reduced downforce will be huge in terms of what kind of racing fans will see on the track. I have said it time and time again: you don’t have to have 200 MPH average speeds and tons of downforce to have great racing. I think this is a major step in the right direction; now they need to continue to develop a tire that will give up over a long race run but still have durability and we will be in great shape.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: From a performance = speed perspective, the rule changes will be moot. The average fan can’t visually differentiate between a car traveling 200 mph versus a car traveling, say, 170 mph. As for handling, the rule changes should allow for closer and more aggressive competition. In that regard, I believe fans will get to see (and enjoy) much better racing. Better competition means more fans, and that’s always — as Martha Stewart says — “a good thing”.
Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: If the test at Michigan last month was any indication — yes. Every attempt at increasing downforce to improve the racing has failed; all it does is exacerbate the aero-push problem which becomes even more pronounced as speeds increase. Reduction in horsepower I am a little skeptical of; it has proven time and time again to not work at intermediates or short tracks. Part of what makes these drivers great is having to manage nearly 900 horsepower. However there is an added benefit to engines with less power: greater durability and possibly new suppliers. Right now Roush-Yates, TRD, Hendrick Motorsports, and Earnhardt Childress are the primary engine suppliers in NASCAR. It wouldn’t hurt to have a few more on hand to mix things up, and create some new opportunities for involvement in the sport. As I’ve long said, whatever the magic formula was that was had between aero/horsepower/tires from 1990-1997….just do that.
Greg Davis, Contributing Writer: In my eyes, the racing this season has been some of the best, most competitive, and (most importantly) most exciting racing we’ve seen in decades in our sport. If what NASCAR is looking to do is bring in more fans, and make the racing more exciting on Sundays, allowing for less downforce and thus more passing, or so R&D thinks, isn’t the way to do it. Fans have shorter attention spans, and many more distractions than they did 10, 20, 30 years ago. The new generation of fans NASCAR needs to attract in care more about the event of attending a race, and their social media presence, than they do how many turns of the wrench went into that last pit stop on the track bar of the No. 88. NASCAR needs to continue to push tracks and the track promoters to add technology like Wi-Fi in stands, as well as new video boards and other more fan-friendly improvements to really broaden the sport to the causal sports fan.
Aaron Creed, Contributing Writer: Unfortunately it will probably never be enough, but that is because racers and fans with a racer’s mindset are always searching for more. Judging by the Michigan test, I think that it will be an improvement after getting feedback from competitors on what will and will not work and putting it into action. The big question is how noticeable of an improvement will there be?
Mike Neff, Short Track Coordinator: Cup racing is an ever evolving sport so it is hard to say what is enough at any one point. The reduction in horsepower will hopefully provide Goodyear with an opportunity to come up with more tires that wear out without failing and give the teams a greater chance to invoke varying strategies. The reduction in horsepower and gear ratio, while obviously making the racing a little bit safer will also, hopefully, allow the drivers to be more at ease racing side-by-side on some of the higher speed courses on the schedule. This is one of the biggest rule changes in the history of the sport and the biggest since the Car of Tomorrow. We’re going to have to wait and see what it ultimately means for the sport.
Huston Ladner, Assistant Editor: NASCAR’s changes are uninspiring. How’s that? First, the decision to go with a spacer for HP reduction doesn’t address the real issue that a 358 cu in is an antiquated ideal. If F1 can get 750 horsepower from a 2.2 litre, then NASCAR should be looking to model their engines after, ya know, cars that are on the road, so something in the 3.8 – 4.2 litre range. But rather than make an aggressive decision (that would cost a bunch of money) they feared the RTA and the hell they would bring with such a big change. The kicker to the engine changes is that nothing changes. The mandatory spacer will reduce horsepower, but what everyone is ignoring is the implementation of roller lifters (standard on an ’86 Mustang, thanks bro) will add nearly 100 back to the equation. Go figure out that aspect. The decision to remove 2″ from the spoiler, however, was a good one.
Last Sunday’s race at Loudon featured a season-high 15 cautions and lots of aggressive racing. Can fans expect more of this type of racing for the rest of the season, or will things get tamer as the Chase continues?
Amy: I think you’ll see it, but not necessarily every week. You have two groups of drivers each with their own reasons for being aggressive: Chase drivers without wins trying to avoid elimination for themselves (or for teammates), and non-Chasers trying to remind the television booth that they’re still on the race track. Add in the Chase race winners who have absolutely nothing to lose, and it’s suddenly a pretty volatile mix. However, the drivers know when and where they can drive a little harder, and it’s unlikely that you’ll see a crazy race at, say Kansas or Charlotte. Talladega will have a big crash, Chase or not, but the action at Dover, Martinsville and Phoenix could definitely pick up. Homestead could be either the tamest race imaginable or a complete wreckfest. It all depends on how the drivers decide to play the game.
Justin: I think the longer the Chase goes on, with the exception of Talladega, Martinsville, and Phoenix, we will see calmer racing with many drivers protecting their spots, especially if they are basically assured a spot in the next round.
Mark: In general, I think cooler heads will prevail as the Chase winds down. Tracks like Dover can turn courage into caution flags pretty quickly, and we all know what getting crazy at Talladega means (at least regarding action on the track…). The difference will be, in my opinion, driven by where drivers are within the Chase standings: if you’re in the next round, you’ll go a bit easier; if you’re looking to advance, you’ll be more likely to take chances. If you’re on the cusp, you’ll likely go-for-broke.
Vito: I think that was more a case of late race heroics on a 1-mile track. Some drivers had no choice; Aric Almirola’s charge from 11th to sixth was nothing short of championship caliber. Others were tire failures or backmarkers driving over their heads. Or in the case of Denny Hamlin, whose head was somewhere that it could not be breached.
Greg: I think things will start to calm down as the weeks continue. Kevin Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers even said it after this weekend’s race. Why chance it and risk wrecking and getting less point, or worse- a DNF during these Chase races when you’re sitting on great runs and in good shape to advance to the next round points-wise? I think more drivers will sit back a bit if they’re already set to advance to the next round during the Chase. Hopefully we’ll see the aggressive driving ramp back up in the final rounds leading into Homestead and the championship.
Matt Stallknecht, Senior Editor: I would certainly expect that kind of racing going forward. This new format has created a palpable urgency throughout the field. Every driver knows that they are one bad set of tires away from being eliminated from Chase contention. What this has created is a field of Chasers who are taking everything they can get whenever they can get it, because they know they have no room for error. I only expect the racing to get hairier from here on out.
Joseph Wolkin, Contributing Writer: New Hampshire has set high expectations for the remainder of the Chase. It’s fair to say that things will calm down as the Chase field shrinks after every three races. But for now, fans should expect more aggressive racing as it this new format is making drivers take more and more risky moves.
Mike: Things will only ramp up even more. Trying to move from round to round only becomes harder as the field shrinks en route to Homestead. When the number of spaces left to advance to the subsequent rounds continues to shrink, drivers are going to race harder and harder to make it into those spots. Hopefully the racing is going to be more in the flow of the events instead of predicated by constant cautions with three to eight laps of green flag racing in between.
Teams head to Dover this week with the first Chase elimination set to happen after the race. Who makes the cut, and who joins the rest of the field for the final seven races?
Amy: As much as I hate to see a Cinderella story end, I think you will see Aric Almirola depart this week; he’s still 16th in points despite a strong run at Loudon and the stumbles of others. I think Denny Hamlin is also toast, with his 19th-place Dover average. I also don’t think Greg Biffle is strong enough to push much further in this. The final elimination? It’s a toss up between AJ Allmendinger, for whom Dover has not been a good track, or a stumbling Kurt Busch.
Justin: Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Allmendinger, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, and Almirola advance. Carl Edwards, Hamlin, Biffle, and Kurt Busch will be eliminated.
Mark: After Dover, say goodbye to Biffle, Edwards, Hamlin, and Kurt B. The remaining twelve will stay relevant for (at least) the following three weeks.
Vito: The four drivers that are out: AJ Allmendinger, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, and Kasey Kahne. Against all odds, Aric Almirola makes it to the next round, as does Carl Edwards. Kurt Busch puts the team on his back as he has the past two years and carries them into the next round of the Chase by the skin of their collective teeth. The disparity of performance between the Ford teams is back to where it was early this year. Even the RPM cars are running circles around the Roush-Fenway machines. Should Biffle and Edwards make it, they should be okay at Charlotte and Kansas based on the speed shown in Atlanta a few weeks back.
Greg: After Dover, the “cream of the crop” will start to rise. I think we’ll see underperforming teams like Greg Biffle’s, Kurt Busch’s, and Aric Almirola’s will get weeded out of the mix to advance. Although Almirola had a good run at New Hampshire, I’m not sure if that will be enough to carry him through Dover and into the next round. I think Matt Kenseth will make a comeback at Dover and advance. And also, a wildcard in my book has to be AJ Allmendinger, who finished 13th at Loudon. A strong finish at Dover and we just might see the Dinger advance.
Aaron: Unless something drastic happens leading to a team’s misfortune I’d be confident in saying that despite their best efforts Biffle, Almirola, and Allmendinger will be out. The fourth one is a toss-up. I’ll say that Newman squeaks in with consistency like all season long, Hamlin and Kurt Busch have strong runs despite their fluctuating results, but Kahne suffers a less than mediocre run and ends up out of the running.
Matt: I personally think that Ryan Newman and AJ Allmendinger are going to fall outside of the top 12, while Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola jump into the Top 12. Thus, I think Newman, Allmendinger, Greg Biffle, and Kurt Busch will end up being the four who fail to advance. That being said, it’s going to be mighty close.
Joseph: The drivers currently in the top seven in points should be safe to move onto Round 2. Besides the drivers that have already locked in, there are a handful of them who have a decent gap over 12th-place, but they will need to make sure they make no mistakes at Dover. Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne are right on the edge, and I think Kahne is going to fall out in place of Denny Hamlin, who was on his way to a solid run before experiencing fuel problems at Loudon. As for Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola, it is going to take a perfect race for them to get into Round Two. They will not only need to earn a top-10 finish at the minimum, but they will also need to hope that one of the drivers ahead of them has some bad luck that takes them out of competition.
Mike: This past weekend proved one thing if nothing else, the entire Chase field can be jumbled up and drivers can rise and fall through much of the field of sixteen. We know that Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are going to advance. Kevin Harvick is virtually guaranteed to move on as well. Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch merely need to avoid disaster at Dover and they should move on as well. From there it truly is anyone’s guess. Carl Edwards wasn’t on many radars to advance but we’ve seen him be great on concrete in the past. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case over the last few years at Dover. The Roush cars have been struggling and it very well could be the end of the Chase for Edwards and Biffle at Dover. Kasey Kahne has simply been a victim of bad luck all year and, through absolutely zero scientific calculations or reasoning, he will probably also be dropped from the Chase ranks. The final drop may be Aric Almirola just due to his mountain being too far to climb but Denny Hamlin very well could be the last car out. In the past we’ve seen him not rebound well from a bad race and the pressure will be on at Dover. Look for the No. 11 to possibly be your last car to not advance.
Huston: Sweet, we get to be clairvoyant here. Out: Almirola (poor guy), Hamlin, Kahne, and KuBu. Somehow Biffle squeaks by, seemingly like how he joined the Chase.
NASCAR saw a new record when 16-year-old Cole Custer took the Camping World Truck Series win at Loudon. With so many young drivers entering the sport and doing well at many levels, what’s the best career path for Custer and his peers…and will there be Cup seats for these youngsters in due time?
Justin: I think the correct path is what we saw with the Dillons: two years of Trucks and two years of Nationwide before moving to the Cup level. Yes, I think Cup rides will open up. There are too many guys not getting any younger or any better.
Mark: The road to a stable Sprint Cup ride should take drivers from the K&N Series to at least two years in trucks and another two years in Nationwide. For fun, drivers should also run two-or-three ARCA events at bigger venues. Good rides should be available in Cup over the next several years because Father Time is a cruel passenger; drivers are aging before our eyes and the old adage of “with years come experience” isn’t as relevant in NASCAR circa 2014.
Greg: What Cole Custer is doing, and the path he’s taken to this early success in his career, is great. It’s unfortunately not common, or easily obtained for most drivers coming up in the sport. The connection he was able to take advantage of with his father and Gene Haas adding him as a “developmental driver” in Haas Automation Racing has been huge for the 16-year old. He’ll continue to run the Truck Series and the K&N Pro Series races and improve on his clear talent. I think the best career path for these young up and coming drivers is through the Truck Series and Nationwide Series. Pay your dues, earn your keep, and show the rest of the racing world you can compete with the elite level of the Sprint Cup Series.
Aaron: It is hard to say. There’s no doubt that Cole Custer has the talent, but he also has the backing. The financial boost seems to be what it takes at this time, and sadly it pushes some extremely stellar youngsters that have shown performance to the side. I wish that wasn’t true, but that is the reality nowadays.
Matt: I think with how young Cole is, his best bet is to stay in the Haas Racing family. Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart are both not getting any younger, and by the time Cole is ready for the Cup Series, at least one of those two spots at SHR will be open. I envision a full-time truck effort in 2016 followed by two years on the Nationwide circuit for JR Motorsports before Custer transitions to the Cup Series for Stewart-Haas Racing. The kid has the talent to do it and he seems to have the right people backing him.
Joseph: Custer and his peers cannot afford to rush up through the ranks. The ideal situation would be what Richard Childress Racing has done. They need to start out racing in ARCA or K&N, and advance to the Truck Series on a full-time basis for at least one year, if not two. Once they have their foot in the door with the Truck Series competition, entering a handful of Nationwide Series races would help them prepare for the next step of their careers and judge just how talented they are. After racing in the Truck Series, a full-time Nationwide Series slate for one year would be perfect. However, in that year, they should run at least two Sprint Cup Series races at either intermediate tracks or short tracks. But if they are struggling in the Nationwide Series like Dylan Kwasniewski is(who only has a handful of top 10s this year), then they should wait another year and run another season in NASCAR’s second-tier division. Following their debut in the Cup Series, that is when they have to make the decision of whether or not they are ready for the grueling schedule with advanced level of competition. If all goes well, most of these drivers should be at the Cup level by the time they are 21 or 22; giving them a career of 20-30 years depending on just how good they truly are.
Mike: It is very hard to say unfortunately. There aren’t going to be too many seats opening up compared to the amount of talent trying to move up into the Cup Series. It would be great to see more of the drivers coming up through the ranks spend two years in Trucks and two in Nationwide to learn how to race. Not everyone can be Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin or Kyle Larson. Chase Elliott is putting in the right amount of time into his Nationwide development. Having these drivers spend more time in the lower ranks will also allow there to be a little more time for the seats to open in the Cup Series. It appears that there aren’t going to be too many owners moving into the Cup Series and some are going to be moving out. The end result is fewer seats to be filled and that is not good for drivers coming up or for the sport in general. NASCAR is going to need to figure out how to entice more ownership into the top level of the sport or the whole sport is going to be in trouble.
Dover predictions-who ya got?
Amy: I don’t think perpetual favorite Jimmie Johnson has what it takes right now, so I think I’ll go all in with Kyle Larson. He’s come close the last two weeks…this week, he strikes gold.
Justin: I’d bet everything I own that Jimmie Johnson wins this week.
Mark: My pick for Dover? While history suggests Jimmie Johnson, my personal choice is Jeff Gordon.
Vito: Torn between Matt Kesenth and Jimmie Johnson. The stats say JJ all day long, but I’m going to go with Kenseth. JGR needs to ensure at least two of their cars make it to the next round, and the 20 team has shown more promise than the 11 this year.
Greg: I’m taking Brad Keselowski to win at Dover. The hottest driver right now, hands down.
Aaron: Matt Kenseth shakes off Joe Gibbs Racing’s recent slump and gets his first win of the season. Furthermore, Kyle Busch carries his dominant performance from June prior to his wreck and finishes immediately behind Matt.
Matt: Jimmie Johnson is my pick to win.
Mike: Jimmie Johnson wins at Dover.
Frontstretch Staff Predictions 2014
Welcome to our seventh year of staff predictions! Each week, our experts take the end of this column to tell us who the winner of each Cup race will be. But as we all know, predicting the future is difficult if not completely impossible… so how do you know which writer you can trust when you put your own reputation (or money) on the line?
That’s why we came up with our Predictions Chart. The scoring for this year is simple:
+5 – Win
+3 – Top 5
+1 – Top 10
0 – 11th-20th
-1 – 21st-30th
-2 – 31st-40th
-3 – 41st-43rd
|Amy Henderson||Jeff Gordon||26th||-1|
|Mike Neff||Jeff Gordon||26th||-1|
|Phil Allaway||Kasey Kahne||23rd||-1|
|Ashley McCubbin||Jeff Gordon||12th||-1|
|Matt Stallknecht||Kevin Harvick||3rd||3|
|Mark Howell||Jeff Gordon||26th||-2|
|Tony Lumbis||Kurt Busch||36th||-2|
|Justin Tucker||Jimmie Johnson||4th||3|
|Joseph Wolkin||Denny Hamlin||37th||-2|
|Huston Ladner||Jimmie Johnson||4th||3|
|Kevin Rutherford||Brad Keselowski||7th||1|
|Writer||Points||Behind||Starts||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
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