1. Everyone’s been giving their opinion, now let’s hear yours: will Kyle Busch make the Chase?
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: I think Kyle Busch can make the Chase; getting into the top 30 shouldn’t be an insurmountable task, though winning could prove more daunting given Joe Gibbs Racing’s recent performance. I’m not sold on that he should, though, because that would mean taking a spot from a driver who raced all season and overall performed better, since climbing into the top 15 simply isn’t going to happen.
Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: He will definitely make it when it comes to the points requirement. The only question may be getting the win; the JGR cars have only been really good on the short tracks. However, Busch is a good enough wheel man that he is capable of winning anywhere, so I say yes, he will make it.
Joseph Wolkin, Senior Writer: It depends on how strong Busch is, but I expect him to make the Chase. Will he do well in it? Probably not. But making it into the playoffs as an underdog will give the No. 18 team plenty of momentum for next year, especially once the 2016 rules package comes out, which will let the team test things that other teams can’t. Overall, the team was mediocre with David Ragan behind the car, but showed a lot of potential at Kansas. If Busch can race like Erik Jones did week-in and week-out, he will definitely be in Victory Lane by Richmond.
Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: NASCAR should never have opened this can of worms with exemptions (it’s said the exceptions prove the rule, but in this case the exceptions prove the room temperature IQs of the NASCAR brass) but now that they have it’s too late. If you consider NASCAR a team sport the No. 18 team has been fielding an entry every week. If a star wide receiver goes out for seven games with an injury he’s still eligible for postseason play if he heals up. Busch can win a race, that’s for sure, and the sad fact is there really aren’t any more than 30 competitive Cup teams left out there anyway.
Kevin Rutherford, Managing Editor: Time for an ill-conceived devil’s advocate! No, Busch will not make the Chase. I’m not convinced he’ll be back to 100% from the get-go, and he’ll only have 15 races to get it done. JGR has been solid this year, so it wouldn’t necessarily be a lack of speed from the team that would keep him out. I think it’s simply the smaller amount of chances coupled with the injury. Please note that I’m not fully on board with my opinion… let’s go with 70% on this side? Eh, whatever. Someone had to go against the grain.
2. The All-Star Race runs two days this year, with the Sprint Showdown on Friday night. Is this what NASCAR needs to pump up the fanbase for its all-star race?
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: The all-star events are too involved to do much good. Extending the weekend only benefits Charlotte regional tourism, and even that is by no means a sure thing. I’m in favor of a “trophy dash” kind of deal: 50 laps for last year’s race winners (and maybe polesitters, too?) for a million pazoozas. No money for anything other than first place. If we’re celebrating Sprint Cup’s finest, let’s get a little Spencerian and go all survival-of-the-fittest. That might put more meat in the seats.
McLaughlin: You can put lipstick and nail polish on a cadaver but it’s still not going to getup and do the macarena. The eligibility for the event and the race format are so convoluted it seems like they turned to Rube Goldberg to design them. Here’s a radical idea: Limit the field to drivers who have won in the past year, have them go at it for 70 laps with the only rule being they must make at least one two-tire stop between lap 30 and 40. Drop the green and let them race. Who would consider such a thing? NASCAR did in 1985 for the first Winston, which was the original modern era all-star race. The event was run the day before the Coca-Cola 600 and was over in a blink over 40 minutes. Darrell Waltrip won it with an oversized engine out of Junior Johnson’s stable. Perhaps on the 30th anniversary of the race, he’ll finally fess up that he clutched the engine crossing the line to avoid post-race inspection. I’ve got my TV tuned to the Mecum Indy muscle car auction and will probably forgo the racing Friday and Saturday all together.
Henderson: They ran a two-day format last year and it took away from the event, not adding a thing, so why would 2015 be any different? By basically making the Showdown the undercard to the truck race, NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway are basically telling the small teams and the others who have not won that they’re not in the least bit important. While it’s decent marketing as it forces fans to pay for two days’ worth of tickets if they actually want to see all of the Cup drivers, it actually takes a lot of the excitement our of Saturday as well, as it’s often the teams trying to make the show who put on the best show. Then again, maybe that’s why NASCAR moved the Showdown – they got tired of it stinking up the show on an all-star weekend that has become increasingly more boring.
Wolkin: Two days of All-Star Race activities is the opposite of what NASCAR needs. The race needs to be moved to a short track or road course. Charlotte is a great track, and it provides teams the chance to see their cars race rather close to the shops. However, there is just a $1 million incentive to win, which is not that much these days, and combined with the current rules package, the format provides the driver that can get clean air on the final restart the best chance to win. There is a lot to work on, and putting the Showdown back on the same day as the All-Star Race is a start, especially since not many people sit home on Friday evenings.
Wolfe: I’m not thinking the new format is going to be better than the old one. It’s a fun and pretty much non-pressure race for the drivers and maybe this will tell us who has a little bit of an advantage heading into next week’s 600. It is the one all-star event where there is incentive to win, but it’s still just an all-star race. It’s difficult to pump these things up in any sport these days.
3. The Xfinity Series visits Iowa for its first standalone race of 2015. Who will prevail with the Cup guys gone?
Rutherford: Jones, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott are the standard options; can’t go wrong with them. But I’m gonna give it to someone else: Ty Dillon, who has two top-10 finishes in his two career starts at Iowa. A win’s bound to happen for the No. 3 this season, and with the Cup regulars gone, this is his time.
Wolkin: Obviously, Jones has been extremely hot as of late in just about every vehicle he steps into. He is going to be extremely competitive on Sunday, but I think we are going to see a new winner at Iowa. Brian Scott has been extremely close to winning his first race, and Chris Buescher has been quick to start the season. Also, keep an eye out for Blaney, who is making his second start of the year.
Howell: There’s this kid named Jones who’s been dabbling in stock car racing a bit. Maybe you’ve heard of him? I think he and Bill Elliott‘s son will put on quite a show this weekend, with Jones hoisting the hardware in Victory Lane at Iowa.
Henderson: Money still buys speed, so the smart bet is among Blaney, Jones and Elliott.
Wolfe: This is not so much looking at the entry list of drivers, but which driver is driving which car. And given the dominance of the No. 20 car over the years, I’m going with Jones.
4. Tyler Reddick has gone from a kid who’d never driven full-time in the Truck Series to both a winner and championship contender four races in. Can he keep that momentum for the rest of the season with Brad Keselowski Racing?
Wolkin: Tyler Reddick is in top-tier equipment with Brad Keselowski Racing, and he is taking over the momentum he had at the end of 2014. He still needs to work on getting more consistent at intermediate tracks, but he has the potential to be something special. As seen at Pocono last year, he isn’t afraid to rub fenders with drivers, which is why he is going to keep contending with Matt Crafton for the title – creating a much more intense battle for the championship.
Howell: Reddick needs to trade competitive aggression in for some weekly consistency. Going crazy fast is good, but being constantly fast every week is essential if he wants to stay relevant and win the championship. Brad Keselowski can keep some decent equipment under Reddick, but learning how to balance speed with consistency is entirely up to Tyler. He’s a big part of why the CWTS is so much fun to watch, but Crafton is still the driver to beat in that division.
Rutherford: At first glance, Reddick’s rise is surprising: he’s a young driver without a full season in the series under his belt, after all. But the more I think about it, I’m not surprised. Dude ran 16 races for the same team last year, plus an additional race in 2013. He has a little experience, plus the familiarity of BKR. I don’t think he’ll necessarily be able to knock off Crafton (yawn), but I think he may make it interesting.
Henderson: As it has the last two seasons, the road to the CWTS title is going to run through Crafton and ThorSport. Are they beatable? Sure. Are they the favorites to repeat until someone else shows otherwise? Absolutely. After four races, Crafton has nearly half a race worth of points over Reddick and more than a full race over fifth place. Crafton is the series’ Jimmie Johnson right now, and until he falters, Reddick is going to have a solid season, but he’ll have to be more than solid if he wants the title — he’ll have to be brilliant.
McLaughlin: Reddick will do just fine. He’s a talented driver and until Keselowski figures out what Harvick did, you can’t even break even on a truck team, he’ll have the funding. The better question is, will anyone be watching the Truck Series races, given the lack of promotion, bizarre opening slate of races and long downtime between dates.