We’re now six races into the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, and what a six-pack of ups and downs it has been for fans and teams alike. Who would have thought that the kind of dominance we’ve seen out of 2014 champion Kevin Harvick would come so early in the season, and that single-car operation Furniture Row Racing and resurgent driver Martin Truex Jr. would be sitting third in points. It has been quite an entertaining start to the season, filled with so many storylines it’s almost hard to keep track of them all.
Kyle Busch‘s injury, Stewart-Haas Racing’s early surge with Harvick and Kurt Busch, while owner Tony Stewart still struggles with his on-track performance. Toyota’s speed struggles, the problems over at Roush Fenway Racing. Those are only some of the storylines that have hit the headlines so far this year, and the racing product on the track week in and week out has been decidedly exciting too.
This weekend off is much needed after west-coast swing to kickoff the season, and everyone involved with the sport has truly earned it and will enjoy this week off of competition.
So let’s kickoff our break by diving into this week’s Mailbox questions…
Q: Greg… What’s up with the Race Team Alliance? I’ve barely heard their name mentioned so far this season. I’m sure they prefer to conduct their business quietly and behind closed doors, but have you heard of any issues they are working on or specific changes they are pushing for? – Carl D., (Location Unknown)
A: Hey Carl, thanks for writing in this week. The Race Team Alliance (RTA) has been really trying to work on items with NASCAR’s help that will ultimately save the teams money in the long run, as head of the RTA, (Michael Waltrip Racing Co-Owner) Rob Kauffman stated in the Alliance’s most recent media interview with Jeff Gluck of USA Today back in January of this year. The RTA’s philosophy has been if the teams can collectively save money on services or items that are common or universal to all teams that compete in Sprint Cup racing, then it will allow the teams to continue to grow and therefore create a healthier NASCAR for the future. Today, 18 Sprint Cup teams are a part of the RTA, which accounts for all the major teams, except for single-car FRR.
As Kauffman mentioned in the article, the things that the RTA has been focused on haven’t been all that exciting right now, but there has been a lot of speculation as to why the organization was founded and what the race team owners really want out of NASCAR. As you’ll remember the RTA was founded after a massive new long-term TV contract deal was signed this past summer by NASCAR and TV partners FOX and NBC. There was new money flowing into the sport, and the least of that pie would ultimately see its way to the individual teams. The sport’s sanctioning body, tracks and track promoters saw (and will see) the lion’s share of those deals, leaving the team owners wanting more.
NASCAR and the RTA have so far existed together harmoniously. But the question is still out there as to what the group will ultimately get out of Brian France, if that is what they want. As Gluck stated, and has been talked about, could the alliance seek some sort of franchising for Sprint Cup teams in the near future? NASCAR is really at a crossroads with Sprint leaving the sport in 2016 and a new title sponsor coming onboard. You have to believe that the RTA will want to be at the forefront of the deal for a new title sponsor of the sport, and what they will bring specifically to the teams.
You can keep up with the RTA’s latest news at their website, www.raceteamalliance.com
Q: Greg, My favorite driver is Joey Logano. With him winning the Truck race over the weekend at Martinsville, I’ve heard a lot about people unhappy with a Cup-regular winning a Truck Series race. What are your thoughts on this, and do you think NASCAR should limit the series that the Cup drivers can race in? – Peter Q., Bellflower, Calif.
A: Logano was actually a big surprise to me on Saturday afternoon too. I honestly didn’t see him as a serious challenger to the mainstays of the Truck Series like Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter, James Buescher and now Erik Jones. But he pulled off a solid race, keeping his No. 29 Ford clean and in one piece and was there at the end to pass last season’s defending champion Crafton. He now has his first victory (in just seven career starts) in the Truck Series and holds a win in all three top national series.
To your question on my opinion of whether its appropriate for Sprint Cup series regulars, like Logano, to be driving down in the Truck Series, which can be considered technically as a developmental series to the Xfinity and Sprint Cup series, my answer is: yes. People have debated this issue forever, especially over the past few years when we’ve seen Sprint Cup champions winning in the lower series each week, stealing the spotlight and the trophies away from those truck-only or NXS-only race teams and drivers.
But what is important to remember, although it sometimes can be overlooked, is that NASCAR’s position is not to intervene and tell one of its competitors that they “can’t” race in a particular series. The sanctioning body has made it very clear that if a Sprint Cup regular has a seat in a Truck or NXS ride and wants to run every race they can. What it comes down to is the NASCAR doesn’t want to tell a driver how he (or she) can or can’t earn a living. And at its core, that’s what this is.
Now, what NASCAR had hoped was that by making drivers choose which series they would declare running for a championship title in at the start of the season, those drivers who were Cup regulars would drive down less and less. That has actually helped in getting more young talent into the lower series, and that’s definitely a positive change for the sport.
Q: With this off-week coming up this weekend, which driver do you think needs an off-weekend break the most right now? Thanks. – Brian P., Rochester, N.H.
A: That’s a great question Brian! Here’s a quick rundown of four drivers who I think can really use this off-weekend…
- Carl Edwards (Currently 18th in points) – Edwards has had a fairly decent start to the season considering he left Roush Fenway for his new seat at Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 19 Toyota. But he’s been running and finishing mid-pack all season thus far. It hasn’t been a bad start to the season, but this could be a good chance for Edwards and crew chief Darien Grubb to regroup and see if they can learn anything from the speed that teammates Denny Hamlin and Dave Rogers have found.
- Clint Bowyer (Currently 19th in points) – Speaking of Toyota, Bowyer could really use this break too. He’s had a rough start to the 2015 season after a horrible 2014. Bowyer and the No. 15 team have had trouble with finding the speed and consistency this year and need to regroup.
- Greg Biffle (Currently 21st in points) – Another driver who needs to take a break and reevaluate where his program is headed in 2015 has to be Biffle, and the same could be said about the entire team actually. But Biffle, who has been in the Chase in recent years, and who has been ultra-competitive in recent memory, has been simply bad this season so far. The No. 16 machine has been slow and has been involved in trouble on the track in a bunch of races this year. It may just be a tough time full of bad luck, but Biffle and crew chief Matt Puccia need a fix… and fast.
- Tony Stewart (Currently 32nd in points) – And last on my list of who this off-week will benefit the most has to be Smoke. After an abysmal 2014 both on and off the track for Stewart, the 2015 season hasn’t proved much better for the three-time Sprint Cup champ. There’s no getting around it, NASCAR with a strong, competitive, and (perhaps most importantly) happy Stewart is a better NASCAR. And that means getting the No. 14 Chevy back to its winning ways would be nice to see. There are just so many question marks when it comes to Tony and the way he’s been running recently. When you look across the race shop at the No. 4, No. 41, and even the No. 10 team, all the other cars have been fast and have run competitive races – the No. 14 just hasn’t been there at the end this year. This will be a good time for the 14 bunch to get things back on track heading into Texas in two weeks.