Tony Stewart was none too pleased with Dale Earnhardt Jr. after the two tangled late in the race, leaving Stewart to settle for a 41st-place finish and his third DNF this season. Meanwhile, Earnhardt denied any responsibility for the wreck. Who was right, and will any tensions arise between the two on track later this season?
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: If there’s any blame to toss around, it should be directed at Tony Stewart. He appeared to slide a bit prior to the contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr., but at a place like Richmond, sliding into nearby cars is nothing unusual. As for further issues or the potential for future tensions, I think both drivers have enough on their plates to worry about without starting a feud. Speaking of plates, let’s table the Smoke/Junior issue until after Talladega this weekend.
Joseph Wolkin, Senior Writer: Just by watching the wreck over and over again, it appears Earnhardt went down just a few inches as Stewart was inching up. It happens plenty of times at Richmond, and it was just a racing deal.
Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: I think Junior was kind of stuck in the spot he was in with Justin Allgaier on the outside of him and Stewart on the inside. It looked like Stewart slid up into Junior just a bit, so if you want to split hairs it may have been just slightly Stewart’s fault. I don’t think Junior had anywhere to go. I don’t think this will linger at all between these two. In fact, it would be no surprise to see them be drafting partners at Talladega this week. I think Stewart was more frustrated that this relegated him to another poor finish in what has already been frustrating season.
Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: Richmond is a short track, no-fault racing. If a citation were to be issued for an unsignaled lane change it would have the No. 14 at the top. Frankly, this is a non-issue. Earnhardt tends to run toward the front of the pack while this year Stewart is typically running laps down with the squirrels in the back. You can’t wreck what you can’t catch. Ironically this week’s race is at Talladega, where Earnhardt and Stewart have traditionally team up to the benefit of both. Perhaps Earnhardt will hook up with Stewart again to help the No. 14 escape the morass of mediocrity at least one week. As for Stewart’s helmet toss? Well, he’s just an excitable boy. Wah-oooooh.
Phil Allaway, Newsletter Manager: My guess here is that Stewart was to blame for his own screw-up and that he was just upset about it. As much as he wouldn’t admit it, he is quite emotional at times. He’s not the sort to go crying about things, but he shows his emotions. I doubt that we’ll see anything develop out of this; it’s probably just a one time thing. I’m sure NASCAR would love some beef to develop between them, though.
Aaron Bearden, Contributor: There’s a term that’s been thrown around for wrecks like this since the beginning of auto racing: a racing incident. That’s all this was. Earnhardt came down, Stewart came up, and they touched. That’s it.
Following Sunday’s race at Richmond, we are now a quarter of the way through the 2015 season. Who – or what – has surprised you the most this season, good or bad?
Wolkin: What has been the most surprising this year is all of the driver changes. Originally, there were going to be few differences between the driver lineups from last year, but with health issues throughout the Cup Series, teams have been forced to switch drivers. Other than that, Martin Truex Jr. has been a pleasant surprise after struggling in his first year with Furniture Row Racing. Stewart’s struggles to start the year are oft-noted, but as history shows, he gets hot in the summer months.
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: I don’t think there have been a lot of surprises this season. Truex’s strong start is a bit of a pleasant surprise, but it really should not be; FRR is in the third year of a partnership with Richard Childress Racing that’s just now starting to show the true benefits of a long-term alliance. I also expected Stewart to be stronger than he has been. Other than that, though, just about everyone is running as expected.
Zach Catanzareti, Contributor: The people who have impressed me most so far have to be Truex, Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch. Truex has been in the top 10 every week but one and has picked up a substantial amount from 2014. Patrick has been a solid top-20 or top-15 driver more times than not and has proved to have great car control, but can she keep it up through the summer races? And Busch has been faster than teammate Kevin Harvick a few times and could have multiple wins by now had it not been for missing three races plus other luck.
Howell: Good surprises have been the overall consistency of Truex and Busch’s triumphant rise from the ashes. The bad surprises have come from the struggles of Clint Bowyer and Stewart. I expected more from these two heading into 2015. Brighter days may lie ahead, but it’s been a rough first quarter.
Bearden: Truex. As rough as 2014 was for he and FRR, I had no expectations for them to succeed this year. They’ve proceeded to make me eat crow week after week, with eight top 10s in nine races. Truex has a chance to be this year’s Ryan Newman if he doesn’t find Victory Lane.
Allaway: Keeping with the overall theme of Question 1, it’s Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick kicking butt and taking names isn’t surprising. Patrick’s form is better than expected, especially at the short tracks. For all we know, she might end up with one of the best average finishes on short tracks this year in the series. However, Stewart’s continued struggles are frustrating. He’s behind David Gilliland in the points right now, and that shouldn’t happen.
Chatter in the garage area at Richmond indicated that BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing are considering a merger to combine resources, assets and personnel. Is a merger in the best interests of the two organizations?
Henderson: No, no, no… oh, and no. BK Racing is a sinking ship and TBR needs to hitch its wagon to a rising star, not an organization that’s, at best, on the same level. The Baldwin outfit needs to look into a partnership with a bigger, better organization for information sharing as Furniture Row Racing and others did. This would be a lateral move at best, and the risk is that BK Racing could take TBR down with it in the long run instead of bolstering both organizations.
Allaway: The problem with this proposed merger is that I’m not really sure combining the operations would solve much of the problems both teams have. All four teams need sponsorship in the worst way. Joining forces won’t help that. The cars aren’t the greatest. Combining that won’t necessarily help. All this says to me is that Tommy Baldwin is either running out of money or getting tired of spending all his money.
McLaughlin: With Agents of Ultron debuting this week, the proposed merger is like Easily-Bruised Man teaming up with Fails to Reach Expectations Man to take on evil Girl Scouts selling cookies without solicitors’ permits. BKR has one top-10 result in 270 Cup starts. TBR also has one top-10 finish to show for 329 starts. Both teams scored their top 10s at Talladega where a befuddled Clark Griswold at the wheel of the family Truckster looking for the on-ramp to Atlanta might have a reasonable shot at a top 10 if he wasn’t dragging a dog carcass behind him. Say what you will about economies of scale, but I’m seeing a greater likelihood of a fire sale.
Catanzareti: I really think both teams need some help. We have not been seeing the speed to stay on the lead lap and battle with HScott Motorsports or Front Row Motorsports. Jeb Burton and Matt DiBenedetto have missed multiple races. I think BK needs a boost, and this merger may be that boost.
Bearden: Let’s be honest, neither of these teams have been that competitive this season. They don’t have the money or parts to compete with the best teams. If a merger would allow them to operate at a cheaper cost without losing too many drivers, then it could be a good move. Still, don’t expect either team to set the world on fire and get to Victory Lane.
Wolkin: As long as all the employees can keep their jobs and all of the cars can remain on track, this merger would be big for both sides. However, for TBR, a team that has a minor alliance with RCR, swapping to a team that runs outside of the top 30 would not be in its best interests. It would also mean that Baldwin, a former crew chief, would no longer own a team, putting him as the director of competition at BKR. This could work if both sides come to a reasonable agreement that can make them more competitive, but it will be tough to do midseason given the different manufacturers and engine packages.
Brian France said late last week that NASCAR would like to “try to figure out how to accommodate” Kyle Busch with a Chase waiver upon his return following his Xfinity Series wreck at Daytona. Should Busch be allowed to compete for the championship if he’s able to return this season?
Allaway: Heck to the no. I fully expect Kyle Busch to win a race at some point later this year once he returns; I went on record recently and said that he would win at Watkins Glen. The season’s already lost for Busch and he knows that. To give someone a waiver into the Chase (provided that he wins) after missing half the season undermines the whole stupidity known as the Chase. Having said that, I’m pretty sure Brian France will do it.
Catanzareti: 100% absolutely. People are underestimating how difficult it will be for Busch to not only return, but also to contend for top 10s and actually pull off a win. Based on 2014 points, he will have to earn 400 points in 10 races to make the top 30 by Richmond (if he returns for Daytona in July). That is an average finish of fourth… fourth. To compare to this year, Harvick has only earned 357 points in nine races and we know how insanely fast he has been. By gosh, if he wins a race (which may be one of the greatest comeback wins in NASCAR history) and gets top 30 after missing 16 races, he absolutely deserves it and I will have gained much respect.
Howell: I’m all for Busch being in the Chase if he rightfully qualifies for it with a win or two. Getting in on points will be difficult, if not impossible, but a win should allow him a chance at the post-season. The larger problem is that NASCAR has already set a precedent by granting prior waivers, like we saw with Stewart’s situation last year. If one driver gets a waiver, how can you argue that another driver does NOT get one? This is one genie NASCAR can’t shove back into its bottle.
Wolfe: It seems like NASCAR should just do away with some of its Chase requirements, such as being in the top 30 in points. I don’t have anything at all against Busch, but if NASCAR isn’t going to use all of the standards it has set to qualify for the Chase, then just get rid of some of them and say win and you’re in. I see France’s point somewhat in that you want your top names to have an opportunity to compete for the title, but if you have regulations you are not going to use then just get rid of them. Based on what NASCAR has done in the past with health and other issues, yes, it pretty much has to let Busch compete for the title. But it would be nice if NASCAR actually followed its own rules, too.
Henderson: When I first read that, I thought it was some kind of joke. If speculation is correct that Busch will return at Daytona in July, he will have missed more than half of the qualifying races for the Chase. Can he get into the top 30 in 10 weeks? Maybe, but it hardly seems fair to hand him a Chase spot over someone who was there every single week. Busch is a talented driver and it will be good for the sport to have him back in his car. But at the end of the day, he should have to wait until next year to see if he’s championship-worthy.
McLaughlin: Yawn. Can we talk about something interesting like one pound non-Kosher meatballs at Talladega? Once again, keep it simple, stupid. If Busch returns and wins a race AND he can enter the top 30 in points before the cutoff then he makes the Chase. Granting a waiver from the top-30 requirement would be opening a Pandora’s Box NASCAR will regret later. Even dangling the carrot of potential eligibility in front of Busch might make him try to return to the car before he’s ready. It’d probably be better if Busch were to take the time to experience the joys of first-time fatherhood, contemplate his own mortality, use Zen meditation to find contentment and do some soul searching in an attempt to find a way to stop being such a despicable prick.