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!
1. Tempers flared after a late-race incident between Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski after the AAA Texas 500, triggering a brawl between the No. 2 and No. 24 teams on pit road after Gordon approached Keselowski. Was Keselowski in the wrong on the track, and did NASCAR handle the aftermath well?
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: Keselowski did nothing wrong. Shooting for a gap near the front late in a race is why these folks make the big bucks. Snooze and you’ll lose, and all that. If this was anyone’s fault, blame Brian France and NASCAR; cutting the field from contention every three races will make drivers take desperate measures at desperate times. The penalties doled out to the crew members involved seemed justified, even though Rick Hendrick’s post-penalty comments told me he’s simply going to write a check and move on to Phoenix.
Amy Henderson, Managing Editor: Keselowski was absolutely not in the wrong anywhere. He saw the opportunity to win and tried to take it…you know, like he’s paid to do. He didn’t cut Gordon’s tire intentionally. People say they want exciting racing, but when a driver puts it all on the line to go for a win, he’s “too aggressive.” You can’t have it both ways. There’s a line between racing hard for a win and dirty driving, and Keselowski didn’t cross it at Texas. As for NASCAR, I think they went a little overboard on the suspensions and they should have fined Paul Wolfe along with the other crew chiefs. Jeff Gordon got that bloody lip somewhere, and it’s doubtful it came from one of his guys.
Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: Fresher tires, a gap just enough to go for on a restart, and needing a win to advance to the next round? Not sure how you can fault Brad for doing what he simply NEEDED to do to advance and have a shot at the championship, or even a shot at making it interesting at Phoenix. The fines that were levied were appropriate. The No. 2 was at its assigned position on pit road to complete their media obligations and the No. 24 pulled up where he should not have. My issue was with having not only Gordon’s team, but team members from the No. 5 as well. I understand being there to “protect your driver”, but when “your driver” instigates and goes after the other driver, that doesn’t give your team the right to start throwing hay makers at everybody after what was a legitimate racing incident. But either way, fun to watch, fun to write about, and glad to see that everybody still cares enough to swing over it.
Phil Allaway, Senior Editor: The more that I see the replays, it seems like it was a racing incident. Gordon had every right to close the door there and he did. Keselowski decided to ram through. I can understand why Gordon was angry, though. In regards to the aftermath, I’m just sick of the constant fighting. We’re supposed to be watching adults who can settle problems on their own without needing to resort to violence. Since the drivers are the ones that caused that whole mess, they needed to be penalized in some way, shape or form. As for the crewmembers, NASCAR definitely created a deterrent to crewmembers going after drivers.
Huston Ladner, Assistant Editor: Was Keselowski wrong? Nah. He was doing what he’s paid to do. Now, one could question his judgment, as the space between Gordon and Johnson wasn’t going to last, but he went for it. That’s how you win, right? As for NASCAR, the last thing they wanted to do was muzzle anyone, especially as intriguing as the Chase is playing out. Wrist slaps all around, everyone have a good day. However, we’re not privy to what the powers-that-be may have said to anyone on conference calls.
Justin Tucker, Contributing Writer: Bottom line is Keselowski saw a gap and went for it. What did people expect him to do? Keselowski likely needs a win to advance to Homestead and he went for it. It’s racing. NASCAR did an admirable job when it came to handling this by not punishing the boys for having at it on the track and only for the fisticuffs on pit road.
2. Ratings were up this week for the first time since New Hampshire in September, and there was plenty of drama after the race in Texas. Was the racing in Fort Worth enough to keep fans interested not just next week at Phoenix, but to bring them back for 2015?
Vito: The racing may not have been, but the Monday Night Raw circa 1998 episode in the pits was. If the ratings for Phoenix aren’t up this weekend, then something is seriously wrong.
Mark: The race at Texas may have enjoyed better ratings, but that was only because the elimination factor is lurking about. Consider the post-race shenanigans the cherry atop NASCAR’s Sunday. There’s been way more discussion about fighting in the pits than fighting on the track. The tussle has even made waves on mainstream television — Jimmy Fallon did a “fans picked up knocked-out teeth” joke on his show Monday night to place the race squarely in the “NASCAR = poor rednecks” category. I expect the bloom to fade once the season ends. If NASCAR wants continued attention and higher ratings in 2015, it should figure out how to make the elimination deal part of the first 26 races on the schedule. Building in anger, panic, and anxiety will lead to more desperate behavior, and that seems to mean more than consistently good racing, at this point.
Ashley McCubbin, Contributing Writer: It depends as to how much of the race they viewed. If they saw the first half and how strung out the competition got, it may have left them bored and wondering what the hype was all about. However, if they caught the end and the multitude in change of positions and strategy, perhaps it’ll be enough to attract them not only for the rest of this year, but 2015 also. Beyond the racing, though, there was a fight. The fight and the idea of possible rivalries and payback may draw fans to tune into Phoenix to see if anything happens. If nothing happens, though, you may see those fans leave if they don’t see enough true racing product on track.
Huston: The storylines in the Chase are probably what got people interested, so if you can replicate the drama for next year, sure, they’ll be back. With that being noted, the racing at Texas wasn’t actually good—unless you’re a big fan of racus interruptus. There were so many cautions, I started thinking that one of the drivers’ names was Caution Debris.
3. Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick all saw their title hopes revived in Texas after some of the Martinsville frontrunners stumbled. Will it be enough for any of them to take home their first Cup title?
Phil: They’ve still got to have another great day in Phoenix just to advance to the Championship Round. It’s possible for any one of the three to win the title right now (Ok, maybe Edwards a little less than Hamlin and Harvick). With the points so close and no one actually locked in yet, it’s too early to say. I wouldn’t be surprised if Harvick won the title.
Ashley: Kevin Harvick certainly has a fair shot still standing, based on his past success at Phoenix. I do see Harvick moving through, either by points or victory lane, simply based on past Phoenix success and his speed throughout this season. Did we mention he dominated in the spring? As far as Hamlin, he has been solidly upfront during the Chase so far and perhaps he’ll have enough to move forward. Edwards is questionable, though, based on the fact that he struggled throughout most of the race at Texas before finding himself in the top 10 at the end after the strategy played out.
Justin: I believe Harvick put himself right back in the ball game with his 2nd place run at Texas based on the fact he will be the overwhelming favorite at Phoenix with his five wins there. He also won the Spring race this year.
Vito: Carl Edwards continues to survive. He was out to lunch running 20th late in the going, but with the flurry of late race cautions and continually throwing tires at it, managed a Top 10 finish. He has a great record at Phoenix and should the antics of this past weekend carry over in the desert, he just might sneak into this thing yet. Hamlin is traditionally great at Phoenix as well, he needs to leave here on a high note to help erase the 2010 debacle which saw him enter as the likely 2010 champion, and leave hurling water bottles at his car and perpetuated a lack of confidence that seemingly has hung over his head ever since.
Amy: Sure, if the drivers in front of them stumble. All they have to do is get to Homestead to be in it. The bigger question is how they’d be received as champions. Hamlin is just 17th in actual points earned this season (versus points handed to him by NASCAR in the numerous points resets). Harvick and Edwards are fifth and ninth, respectively, and would have been mathematically eliminated. Are any of these the driver fans want to be the sport’s champion? To me, that word means that you’re the best…and they’re hardly that this year.
Huston: All three drivers are good at Phoenix, so they’ve got to be feeling pretty decent as NASCAR hits the next stop. But Edwards and Hamlin just haven’t shown tremendous speed at the 1.5 mile tracks — but maybe that doesn’t matter, Edwards did steal a ninth at Texas after being a lap down for most of the race.
4. Both the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series could have their championships wrapped up after Phoenix, a week before the season finale. Is it time for NASCAR to institute a Chase system in those series to keep the title race closer and generate late-season excitement?
Justin: NO, NO and NO! The championship battles in the Nationwide and Truck series are usually nail biters, it would be ridiculous to change something that isn’t broke.
Mark: A “Chase for the Championship” would only muddy up the Truck and Nationwide waters. Too few teams would be in regular contention, and I have the sense there’d be eventual frustration as sponsors and personnel ebbed-and-flowed during the year. Those two divisions need to stay outside the circus tent and do what they do best: develop emerging talent.
Phil: No. Sprint Cup doesn’t need a Chase, either. Winning a championship in NASCAR should be predicated on full-season form, not form over ten weeks. Also, in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series, you have Sprint Cup usurpers coming in to whack races, especially in Nationwide. There’s so much focus put on the Nos. 22 and 54 that it would overshadow any Chase.
Amy: Oh, hell, no. Those series have come down to what they should come down to…the best drivers of 2014 wrapping up the titles because they were just that good. They don’t need smoke and mirrors to provide a hard-fought championship battle. Just race, baby.
Ashley: No they do not as the majority of the NASCAR fans across the social media networks have expressed displeasure with the Chase system format. If you add to the other divisions, you basically bring forth the anger across the board and continue to decrease their audience. It’s also important for NASCAR to keep those divisions without a Chase format as it gives them their own separate identity.
It’s Phoenix, baby—who wins in the desert?
Amy: Jeff Gordon inches closer to history with win number 93.
Justin: He dominated in the Spring and he’ll do it again on Sunday—going with Kevin Harvick.
Vito: Kevin Harvick –his record here is untouchable, dominated all weekend in February. How was that NINE months ago?!
Phil: I’m going off the board and picking Paul Menard. He’s run quite well there in the past. Strange things will happen on Sunday.
Mark: While my head says Harvick, my gut says Kasey Kahne. Look for HMS to raise Kahne at Phoenix.
Ashley: Harvick. As mentioned above, his pure speed throughout the year, past at Phoenix and dominance in spring.
Huston: Lost amid the hype
Easy target for past hate
KyBu takes the win
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:
Prediction Scoring +5 – Win +3 – Top 5 +1 – Top 10 0 – 11th-20th -1 – 21st-30th -2 – 31st-40th -3 – 41st-43rd
|Amy Henderson||Matt Kenseth||25th||-1|
|Mike Neff||Kevin Harvick||2nd||3|
|Vito Pugliese||Kevin Harvick||2nd||3|
|Aaron Creed||Jeff Gordon||29th||-1|
|Mark Howell||Kevin Harvick||2nd||3|
|Huston Ladner||Joey Logano||12th||0|
|Writer||Points||Behind||Starts||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
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