1) Kyle Larson. Should we be concerned? Are you? Or should we chalk it up as a bizarre health incident?
Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: Number of times I have passed out without alcohol involved: zero. It is not normal to pass out in the middle of the day, even after scribbling your name a few times. It wasn’t particularly hot out, and when aren’t these guys holding a drink bottle with their sponsor’s logo on it? I would be quite concerned, particularly with Brian Vickers having to constantly battle blood clots. No, I’m not trying to WebMD anybody, but I do know that it is not normal to just lose consciousness in the middle of a 50-degree day out of the blue. The only other driver I knew who passed out under similar circumstances was Dale Earnhardt at Darlington in 1999. That offseason, he had a chunk of steel removed from his neck from a shop accident almost 25 years earlier.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: Larson’s health scare seemed to be a one-time deal. Dehydration is no laughing matter, but I remember the days when drivers would get stuck with IV bags after races at places like Bristol. Drivers should know enough to carry water bottles along with Sharpies, especially when cruising the hinterlands doing meet and greets. As long as the doctors gave him a clean bill of health, Larson’s fainting was of little concern.
Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: The Larson health scare, I think, was just kind of a freak thing. From what I was told when I passed out once, doctors often don’t know why it happens. The bigger concern for Larson and his team now is becoming more competitive. With the strong finish last year, many (including me) thought Larson would be at least a consistent finisher in the top 10 and have contended for a win or two in these early races. But that hasn’t happened and it may be as much of a mystery as Larson’s health issues.
Amy Henderson, Senior Writer: Should we be concerned? Not unless something happens again. Passing out from dehydration is obviously not something you want to have happen, but it’s also entirely likely that it was a one-time thing. Hopefully, Larson will talk with his fellow drivers and medical staff, come up with a hydration plan for race weekends and that will be the end of it. If it happens again, then it’s time to look deeper, but for now, it’s not really that big of a deal.
Joseph Wolkin, Senior Writer: Fainting was just a completely crazy incident, although Larson needs to be wary of his health from now on. A team like Chip Ganassi Racing can’t afford to have a driver missing the race when it might be on the edge of making the Chase based on points. There is no cause for concern with Larson, but there need to be better time management to enable him to eat/drink just the right amount during a race weekend.
Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: Larson got dehydrated and he fainted. Nothing to see here folks, move along. It happens all the time. A mayoral candidate here in Philly was dehydrated and she hit the floor like a sack of laundry during a live televised debate. What amazes me is that anyone can get dehydrated these days when it seems everyone is constantly carrying a bottle of water with them. In my day, when you got lightheaded during the summer you drank out of the garden hose. I’d also like to say that the amount of medical tests they did on a healthy young man who fainted once goes a long way toward explaining the cost of medical insurance these days. Affordable Health Care, my skinny white Irish….
2) Does Richard Childress Racing stand a chance on their appeal? What would you do if you were the judge?
Henderson: It’s hard to say what the appeals panel will decide without knowing exactly what the tire audit revealed. If the team was tampering with the tires, they should be heavily penalized. However, that doesn’t mean their entire season last year was marred by cheating and it doesn’t mean that perhaps it’s time to revisit the rules. NASCAR doesn’t mandate tire pressures any more, and perhaps letting teams run a bleeder valve would eliminate them having to police the issue. If a bleeder valve made it easier for drivers to handle a car and to pass, then it might improve the racing.
McLaughlin: Rumors are these sorts of shenanigans have been going on since late last season and NASCAR had let everybody know they should cut it out. RCR didn’t and so they got slammed with a Hammer of God punishment. They’ll lose on the appeal. If I were the judge, I’d ask the RCR tire specialist if he could drill a tiny little hole in a balloon in court while I watched, but then, I am easily amused.
Pugliese: Well, it is Richard Childress who historically has curried favor with the France family (1990 anyone?), but that was 25 years ago. The last time Childress teams were told not to bring something to the track again, NASCAR fined them 150 points after Clint Bowyer‘s car was out of spec following a win at New Hampshire in 2010. NASCAR ended up with a bit of egg on their face the last time the appeals process went the way of the defendant, and this incident is a clear cut case of doctoring tires. The Four Horsemen of the NASCAR apocalypse are don’t mess with engines, fuel, traction control or tires…got it? Good. NASCAR said if they lose the appeal they’ll increase the fines – I, too, would do the same. Whether or not they actually do follow through on it remains to be seen. Might it end up being a behind-closed-doors finger wagging and new findings to justify lessening the penalty? I would hope not and don’t suspect that will happen. Besides, with the new Chase qualification criteria it likely will have little impact on the No. 31 and Ryan Newman making it into the postseason.
Howell: Things don’t look good for RCR right now. Sure, they will likely have a car in the Chase come September, but we need to understand that all eyes will be on that team from here on out. NASCAR needed to make an example of someone as a warning to other teams who might be trying the same technique. One thing about cheating in this sport: if one team’s doing it, rest assured that at least a few others have been trying it, too. If I were the judge, I’d drop the hammer just to show who’s boss. Go easy now, and NASCAR will have the hairy eyeball turned their way….
Wolkin: With the severity of these penalties, it’s doubtful that RCR will win its appeal. However, the team has a chance to gain points back, which could be the deciding factor of whether or not Newman makes the Chase. If I were the judge, I would reduce the suspension for Luke Lambert from six races to three, and reduce the fine to 50 points instead of docking RCR 75 since all circumstances have to be taken into consideration.
Wolfe: RCR had better have a pretty good argument if it wants to get this penalty overturned. There is pretty much no gray area in the NASCAR rules on how to handle tires. Given NASCAR’s history of rarely overturning an original ruling, I would say there is pretty much no chance this one gets changed.
3) Six races in, give me your title favorite and why. Has your opinion changed since February?
Pugliese: My title favorite going in was Carl Edwards. Six races in, he’s seen as one of the bigger disappointments. A late-race blown tire scuttled his chances at Martinsville, and he was running right with his teammates, one of whom eventually won. Kyle Busch being sidelined since the season started has hurt Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole. So far, the results have been a carryover of 2014 with Stewart-Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports cars ruling the roost. (The Penske Ford duo has earned their fair share of the pie, too.) I think as the season continues and Toyota finds a bit more speed on intermediates, Edwards will still be one of the Final Four heading into Homestead.
Wolfe: Kevin Harvick was one of the favorites coming into the season and he’s only strengthened that thought. The fact that the No. 4 team has already proven it can win under the current Chase format only helps Harvick’s case to be the favorite. It’s still early in the season, but it’s not too far out there to ask which other three drivers will join Harvick in the Final Four that go for the title at Homestead.
Henderson: Harvick, all the way. That hasn’t changed one bit since February. The No. 4 team is easily the best out there on a weekly basis. It’s hard to talk title favorites anymore in a day where one careless move by a backmarker during the Chase could take a driver’s championship hopes away in one race. However, Harvick will certainly be a factor as long as he’s as lucky as he is good.
Howell: Despite my leanings in other directions, I think Harvick is the driver to beat. Even when he’s not in Victory Lane, he’s close enough to see it. Few teams have shown such consistency and relative comfort – they seem to be almost nonchalant in their approach to races. Give Rodney Childers much of the credit: the guy’s about as calm as a carbon-based life form can get. It’d be nice to see the love shared across more SHR teams, but right now, Happy’s looking at his second consecutive title.
Wolkin: It’s hard to go against Harvick after having such a hot start, but Brad Keselowski is quite determined this year after just barely missing out on the final round of the Chase last year. Team Penske is off to a fast start, and if he continues to contend for wins like he has, he will be at Homestead against Harvick.
McLaughlin: Six races in, six months in, it doesn’t matter. Due to NASCAR’s preposterous Chase system, the only title contenders with a leg up on the rest of the pack are those who have won races. Someone could be 28th in points in August but if he wins at Richmond in September, avoids elimination in the first few rounds of the so called Playoffs he could then claim the title at Homestead. At the beginning of the season, I went way out on a limb and predicted Danica Patrick wouldn’t be the 2015 Cup champion and I’m still willing to bet the farm on it.
4) Do you feel like double-dipping in Cup has helped the Xfinity Series regulars who have done it? Or has there been no effect?
Pugliese: I think it’s irrelevant. The Cup drivers who run NXS are in the best cars in that series and run up front anyway. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon don’t run that series and even if Harvick wasn’t running, it wouldn’t really make much of a difference. If it did, the Roush Fenway teams would at least be top-20 cars on the Cup side, as they’ve showed consistent speed with three legitimate Xfinity Series drivers ranking within the top five in points. Besides, Kurt Busch hadn’t been in a car for a few weeks and he seems to have acclimated to the new rules package nicely.
Wolfe: I have always thought it is somewhat of a help to Sprint Cup drivers who run in the NXS races. I think it can be especially helpful if there is a “new” situation involved. That means either you’ve got a new track, a newly resurfaced track, a newer driver, or maybe a newer tire compound that is being used in each series. But we’ve seen that just because a driver is good in the Xfinity Series, it’s no guarantee they will be good in Sprint Cup. So, yes, it can be helpful, but I wouldn’t say it gives the double-dippers anything near an overwhelming advantage.
Henderson: It depends on how you define help. Does it magically make Cup drivers run better in Xfinity Series cars? No. It does give them some experience against a full field of Cup drivers, and it gives them some exposure. If their goal is to eventually move up to the Cup Series, then any information they can obtain and any teams they can catch the eye of are invaluable to them down the road.
Howell: Seat time is essential to eventual success, so – in that regard – bouncing back-and-forth between NXS and Cup cars is good for building experience and comfort. Seeing differing levels of competition is also a positive thing, especially for young drivers. Unfortunately, much of that schooling gets lost in the shuffle of who dominates, who wins, and who gets noticed for running in both series. Turning lots of laps helps drivers turn heads of car owners, sponsors, and fans. In that regard, double-dipping has its rewards.
McLaughlin: This is one of those questions that’s tough to answer given the 150-word limit on responses. The main advantage the Double Play drivers probably gain is familiarity with the tires and how or if they fall off. They may also get a better feel for different lines on the track and which line to pick on restarts. You’d have to guess with the Orwellian pit-road camera system that they are using the AAA races to get familiar with strategies to get on and off pit road, figuring out where the timing lines are and such. Some of the Cup pit crews are moonlighting in the Saturday races for the same reason. But given the difference in horsepower between the Cup and NXS cars, plus the disparity of the level of competition through the field in the two series…
Wolkin: Double dipping is huge for Xfinity Series drivers. Besides enabling them to run against the best of the best, it also gets them added track time. For drivers like Brian Scott and Regan Smith, it gives them the added laps to know what their cars need, and they have been running a lot stronger since they began racing in Cup more frequently.