1) In light of this week’s protective order involving Kurt Busch, one in which a Kent County Commissioner ruled Busch committed an act of domestic violence… should he be allowed to race on Sunday? Why or why not?
Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: NASCAR’s hand was forced. For months, they’ve seemingly tried to ignore making a decision on this situation but there’s no way Kurt Busch could have raced. The decision by Commissioner Jones made it clear he felt Busch committed an act of domestic violence, believing Patricia Driscoll’s side of the story over her ex-boyfriend. Jones also referred to documentation of evidence, both through pictures and text messages immediately afterward that further corroborated the story. Add in Driscoll’s additional claims of abuse, thrown out there on Good Morning America Thursday, and inaction now risked the controversy raising to a level no one was comfortable with.
People think I’m burying Busch. What I think is irrelevant to the reporting process; honestly, I feel bad for both Busch and Driscoll. There are clearly inconsistencies on both sides. But the bottom line is, no matter how much you might feel Busch is innocent in this whole thing, a judge has ruled there’s at least a 51 percent chance he isn’t. That’s enough to make this story a chance for NASCAR to change its stance on domestic violence, one they fouled up with the Travis Kvapil incident and creates a possible PR nightmare should Busch have won the 500 Sunday. It had to happen the way it did, like it or not.
Amy Henderson, Senior Writer/Editor: Do I agree with Kurt Busch’s suspension? Not at this time. Busch has neither been charged with a criminal offence nor convicted of anything by a jury. If he is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, then a suspension would be warranted, but as of now, it’s premature. Without access to all of the evidence the court saw at the hearing, it’s presumptuous to say what did or did not happen that night last fall.
Sonya Grady, Senior Writer: Kurt Busch should not be racing. While we may not have an actual conviction on our hands, this latest edition of Kurt Busch Gone Bad is simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. You can never take away the amazing talent that Kurt Busch has, but it is not in NASCAR’s best interest to look the other way–for the sport or for Kurt Busch’s future. It is time to face the music and fix what has been broken for a very long time.
Huston Ladner, Senior Writer/Editor: Should is a difficult term. Busch did nothing wrong on the track — but this story isn’t about racing. In light of the NFL’s missteps, NASCAR had to suspend Busch, and it’s not all that surprising. The real question will be whether Busch takes any action as he has not been charged or convicted of anything (yet). This whole saga continues to confound.
Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: With Kurt Busch’s past temper issues, he has to have a short leash. It’s a shame but even if what Patricia Driscoll said is half true then Busch has to be suspended. He was given his day in court and lost. There really can be no patience with domestic violence.
Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: I think this is timed out and not accidentally. In any case, my guess is Kurt is gone for good. He got himself terminated at Roush. He got himself terminated at Penske. Stewart-Haas Racing is STRIKE 3. Could a possible career change to IndyCar lie ahead? Or is he too old for America’s new Formula 1 team?
Phil Allaway, Senior Writer/Editor: Well, NASCAR beat me to this. He’s out. <Cue a group of four whammys from Press Your Luck saying “You’re out. You’re out. You’re out. You’re out. YOU’RE OUT!,” then add a boing sound effect for good measure.>
In all seriousness, NASCAR realized that it just couldn’t work once they got the details. They would have had a PR nightmare on their hands. It’s arguable that they held to their word here. They waited until they had information from the court before making their decision. Once they got the information, the reality was too obvious to ignore. Whether this mess ends Kurt Busch’s career, like some are already claiming that it could, is anyone’s guess at this point.
Zach Canzareti, Contributor: I think he should race. Until there is complete proof or evidence, I think sitting him out of the biggest race of the year will be too severe if we are not even certain he did anything.
2) Denny Hamlin. Danica Patrick. Is one of these two drivers over the line, and if so, who? Or is the whole incident much ado about nothing?
Sonya Grady, Senior Writer: Denny and Danica. The Thursday Night impact was a racing deal. Danica’s reaction was justified as a race car driver. Good for her standing up! Denny’s pat on the shoulder and condescending tone as he tried to educate the little lady made me want to puke. But after all is said and done, there’s not much more to talk about.
Huston Ladner, Senior Writer/Editor: Seems that it may be just unfortunate circumstances. Patrick felt the pressure of making the race and surely that had something to do with her “discussion” with Hamlin after the Duels. But two incidents during the week between these two seems to be a bit peculiar. I still think when things move to Atlanta next week, and “real” racing begins, this story will be nothing.
Amy Henderson, Senior Writer/Editor: Nobody was over the line, especially during the qualifying race. Hamlin got Patrick loose; she couldn’t hang onto the car. It happens all the time on restrictor plate tracks. Had they not gotten together during practice as well, it would not have even been a blip on the radar screen. If anything, the practice crash was a bigger deal because it happened during a time when there was nothing at stake and drivers should have been more forgiving on track.
Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: The one thing I took from it. Danica is stressed out. She called this week the most pressure-packed of her career and I think the rumors of job security are clearly weighing on her. There was a reason to be angry, too; if she hadn’t fought back, using teammate Kurt Busch to push her through the field late Patrick would have failed to qualify for the 500. Brian Scott, had he finished ahead of her (he was 17th), would have taken a spot and Patrick’s owner points from last year would have been too low for a provisional. Some frustration, the kind that has nothing to do with Denny, simply got taken out on him.
That said, I don’t see anything here that shows me this incident is any different from any plate wreck we’ve seen in the past. Sometimes, two drivers get magnetically attracted to each other, in the wrong position in the wrong time, and make contact. You’ve got to bumpdraft, or at least get really close to one another, and sometimes these things happen. So, a bit overblown. I think Danica may get Denny back though… just not until Martinsville.
Phil Allaway, Senior Writer/Editor: I’d argue that neither of them are over the line. I’m pretty sure that Hamlin is not intentionally trying to take out Patrick. He’d be a moron to do that at Daytona. On the other hand, Patrick has every right to be upset since she got dumped two days in a row by the same dude. If this were 1997, we’d be hearing something along the lines of “That’s just one of them racing deals” and we wouldn’t hear any more of it. Of course, the term (or some variation of it) was used so often at the time that Rece Davis made it into a catchphrase that he used during highlights of NASCAR races on RPM 2Night.
Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: Hamlin had to know what he was doing. Everyone knows when the trailing car gets close to the left bumper it makes the lead car loose. She had every right to be upset. Danica probably won’t get revenge on track but I wouldn’t blame her if she did.
Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: I feel that Hamlin only crossed the line when he referred to Patrick as “Honey” during their discussion and then laid a paternal hand on her shoulder — like she was a dumb kid who needed to be taught not to throw rocks at a hornet’s nest.
Zach Canzareti, Contributor: They’re both right, and they’re both wrong. It was racing. Danica Patrick has every right to be upset. Not only was that was a really big race for her with so much on the line, but that was twice in as many days that contact with Hamlin cost her a car. I was happy to see her show emotion and approach Denny herself, as well as the teamwork with Kurt Busch to gain eight spots in two laps.
3) Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports captured eight of the top 12 speeds in Daytona 500 qualifying. They’ve won the Sprint Unlimited and both Budweiser Duel races. Is it a lock the Daytona 500 winner comes from these eight teams or, if not, who could break through that barrier and score an upset?
Amy Henderson, Senior Writer/Editor: It’s likely that the winner could come from those teams, but this is restrictor plate racing and anything can happen. Just look at the last race at Daytona—most of the big players were out of contention due to crashes long before the rains came and some unexpected teams were in contention when the clouds did open. At the end of the day, plate racing is little more than a crapshoot, and anyone’s luck can run out at any time…and anyone can hit the jackpot.
Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: I think the Hendrick/Gibbs combo is as close as you can get to a lock with this style of racing. The current rules have made it difficult to pass the leader and also put a premium on handling. With a hot, slick track expected Sunday the cream will rise to the top and HMS/JGR have already proven they’re the cream. Those eight cars have combined to dominate so much and are filled with compelling storylines. Matt Kenseth: Going for his third 500. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Trying to become the first back-to-back winner since 1994-95. Carl Edwards: Trying to post debut win with new team. Jeff Gordon: Trying to get one more before he retires. You get the pictures. I don’t see an underdog winning Sunday, sorry!
Sonya Grady, Senior Writer: Anybody else starting the Great American Race. It’s a plate race. No guarantees for anybody.
Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: While the Hendrick and Gibbs teams have looked strong, you can’t say with any certainty just who will win a plate race. There is simply too much that can happen. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a driver from another team win.
Zach Canzareti, Contributor: I see them as a lock. It seems like when a driver gets out in the lead, they are very tough to pass. If somebody can break through their barrier, it will be Martin Truex Jr. or Greg Biffle.
Huston Ladner, Senior Writer/Editor: These two teams seem to be the class of the field. So unless the wrecks take out all eight cars, they should be in good position. But restrictor-plate racing always brings a certain level of chance, which means that nearly anyone could sneak by, like say Greg Biffle. But the way that Kenseth, Jr., and JJ were able to hold off the field once in front, it will be tough.
Phil Allaway, Senior Writer/Editor: It’s the Daytona 500 and there haven’t been 43 cars on the track together for all of Speedweeks. Anything can happen. In case you’re not following, that’s a rather emphatic no. Having said that, there is a good sporting chance that one of those eight teams could end up in Victory Lane on Sunday if the cards fall right. I’m personally going with Martin Truex, Jr.
4) The XFINITY Series makes its season debut today. What storyline are you most looking forward to seeing unfold within NASCAR’s second-tier division in 2015?
Huston Ladner, Senior Writer/Editor: Chase Elliott is the easy story, but perhaps watching his teammate might be the better one. Is this it for Regan Smith if he doesn’t score a championship? The other big sidebar will be watching how Bubba Wallace adapts to Roush Fenway Racing and moving to full-time cars.
Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: Curious to see if Chase Elliott will let last year’s success and this year’s limited Cup starts go to his head and distract him; or, can he focus and win another XFINITY title? Most of the best drivers who transitioned from AAA to the bigs ran at least two years in AAA. (Kenseth, DEJ, etc.) While the topic is open, how to we abbreviate this Comcast Xfinity Cup? FX, CFX?
Phil Allaway, Senior Writer/Editor: The stories in the XFINITY Series are few and far between. Kyle Busch is still doing 26 races and will probably win between six and 12 of them. With the decreased horsepower in Sprint Cup away from restrictor plate tracks, more Cup drivers will compete since the carryover will be greater. What I’m looking forward to is: 1. Does Chase Elliott have some kind of swoon after his championship knowing that he’s essentially in a lame-duck season? 2. Darrell Wallace, Jr. and Elliott Sadler at Roush Fenway Racing. Can they earn that title for Elliott, and can RFR find Wallace some sponsorship? 3. Regan Smith. Can he emerge from Elliott’s shadow? I’m personally looking forward to seeing how well Wallace does in the No. 6. Sponsorship is the key, though. He needs it badly.
Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: I think it’s the diversity of the series beyond Chase Elliott. Watch Ty Dillon come into his own in his second season driving the XFINITY Series. Brian Scott has finally matured and is in position to win some races. Bubba Wallace will also win, multiple times although I know his funding is in question. There’s Chris Buescher, Elliott Sadler, Regan Smith… the list goes on and on. I think it’s a very talented second-tier division right now.
Zach Canzareti, Contributor: Roush Fenway Racing. With the addition of both Elliott Sadler and Darrell Wallace Jr., I am very excited to see how they perform. Sadler has so much experience behind him and Bubba is on the other hand with little Xfinity time, but a ton of talent. I also am looking forward to watching Chris Buescher continue to impress in 2015, especially since he is already a proven race winner.
Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: It will be interesting to see if Chase Elliott can go from being consistent to dominant. And maybe it will be nice to see a series regular beat the XFINITY-wackers, at least sometimes.
Sonya Grady, Senior Writer: I’m hopeful that Chase follows up 2014 with more fireworks, skipping a sophomore slump. And Bubba Wallace! Keep your eye on him. Another real deal driver getting ready to break through.
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