Welcome to Friday Faceoff, our weekly NASCAR roundtable where the Frontstretch experts give their take on major storylines surrounding the sport. Here’s a few major questions we’re trying to answer heading into Pocono this weekend.
1) Jimmie Johnson‘s written warning P1 penalty was rescinded by a NASCAR Appeals Panel this week. Major debate has ensued. Did the sport make the right call, and either way what can we learn from this experience to make the penalty process better moving forward?
Mike Neff, Short Track Manager: I can’t begin to claim to understand the warning process or the subsequent penalties or the appeals. What I know is the process played out and the penalty was rescinded. I have never understood why there needed to be a penalty in the first place. If you don’t make it through inspection in time you lose track time. That should be penalty enough. Provided the officials push them through inspection and make them go to the back of the line instead of working on the car in line, then I’m all for it. The sport made the call, the appeals judge made the call, that is how the process is supposed to work.
Phil Allaway, Newsletter Manager/TV Critic: It sounds like the National Motorsports Appeals Panel couldn’t figure out if the second warning was actually a “warnable” offense or not. NASCAR may need to shore up their rule book to make things more cut and dry in the “Room of Doom.” Personally, I found the whole idea of actually appealing the P1 in the first place to be rather pointless and a waste of money. Clearly, Hendrick Motorsports saw something they didn’t like with NASCAR that goes beyond the penalty.
Joseph Wolkin, Contributor, Social Media Assistant: The whole idea of this penalty was rather ridiculous. It was fairly exaggerated, and Hendrick didn’t just appeal it just because they didn’t want to lose selection of a pit stall. They wanted to know why they were handed the penalty in the first place. The more research I do on it, the less I understand as to why the penalty was given. If we can learn anything, it’s that you shouldn’t take risks prior to inspection.
Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: So let me get this straight: the No. 48 team had to go through inspection several times for trying to skirt the rules – and continues to have to go through multiple times to skirt the rules – and they aren’t penalized. Does anyone else find this a little hard to swallow given the number of races and championships this team has won, coupled with soundbites of the crew chief instructing the driver to back the car into the wall if they win? This does not look good to fans of a driver other than No. 48 for HMS supporters. All this does is feed the skeptic’s refrain of “it’s no different than WWE” and give the appearance of impropriety and preferential treatment. Meanwhile, Carl Long is still banned from the Cup garage for having a worn out, out of spec engine eight years ago. Seems fair.
Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: In the interest of varied writing styles I’ve decided to pen mine in Haiku this week.
New penalty system has failed.
Was supposed to make the process transparent.
Now it’s clear as mud.
2) Michael Waltrip Racing swapped crew chiefs and engineers this week in an effort to improve performance. Was it a mistake to divorce Clint Bowyer from longtime head wrench Brian Pattie after both finished runner-up in the 2012 Sprint Cup championship Chase?
Neff: 2012 was an eternity ago in racing terms. They’ve been spun out since Richmond the following year. The bigger problem is the whole organization has been spun out since that night at Richmond. You have to do something to shake things up because right now they are running like Fido’s rear end. Hopefully this will help them out. If not, the whole organization is in trouble, not just Clint.
Allaway: Seeing as Bowyer was already coming out of his funk to open the season with Pattie still there, I don’t even think it’s so much about Bowyer as it is about the No. 55 and making that ride an attractive option for 2016 if Brian Vickers cannot return. Tom Bowles wrote earlier this week about how the No. 55 could be a landing spot for Danica Patrick if she doesn’t sign an extension with Stewart-Haas Racing. I personally doubt that’s going to happen, but if Vickers still cannot go next year, the No. 55 will be the biggest ride up for grabs. I don’t think David Ragan is getting a contract to drive in 2016 for MWR unless they expand. For Billy Scott, it’s time to prove your worth. The No. 55 has floundered somewhat with Vickers’s health always a question over the past couple of years. Now, you have a quirky, if steady presence with Bowyer. It’s time to do it to it.
Wolkin: Moving Brian Pattie away from Bowyer could prove to be just the right move for MWR. The two have worked together for a while, but not much has been produced since 2012. It was absolutely the right choice in a time where the team is seeking just to find consistency in the top 15.
Pugliese: Yes. It gives the appearance of grasping at straws rather than addressing where the real issues lie with this team. This is a team in disarray since 2013 having lost a major sponsor in NAPA, a top driver in Martin Truex Jr., veteran leadership with Mark Martin and the most brilliant crew chief in the game not named Knaus, with Rodney Childers moving to SHR. They’re also without Vickers, who continues to battle health issues stemming from blood clots and heart surgery. For a team that showed so much promise just a couple of years ago, they’re quickly circling the drain and still evoking references to Spin-Gate – meanwhile everybody who has left the operation has gone on to much greener pastures.
MWR needs to form a technical alliance with JGR if it is to survive and return to where they were in 2012. Kyle Busch says it’s “stupid” that they’re not – and given MWR’s performance the last two years, I tend to agree with him.
McLaughlin: No sympathy for MWR racing
Rotten bunch of cheaters that they are
Run Clint run, far away
3) NASCAR came out this week and said they’re always in talks with other manufacturers to enter the sport. Which manufacturer would you like to see get involved in NASCAR – and why?
Neff: Mini because it would be awesome to see them make a full-size Mini. That would be the ultimate in irony. Tesla would be awesome too. Let’s push the NASCAR green initiative to a whole new level. Although I think their pit-stop times would suffer. You can’t dump 22 gallons of electricity into a car.
Allaway: I think everyone would like Dodge to return. Heck, they unveiled a Gen-6 version of the Charger car before pulling out. That might have been the best received of the lot. However, if you can’t get Dodge back in with a retooled Charger (it has gotten a new nose since the car was unveiled in Las Vegas back in 2012), it’s a head-scratcher. It would probably be somebody like Hyundai/Kia (with the Kia Optima or Hyundai Sonata) or Volkswagen with the CC or Passat. Volkswagen’s case would probably be strongest due to the fact that the Volkswagen Audi Group wants to be the biggest automobile manufacturer on Earth and NASCAR is a pretty good place to get their product out there in one of their biggest markets.
Note that if Volkswagen made the move, I’d prefer the CC. It’s currently racing in the British Touring Car Championship and looks really nice, but the “beigeification” of the brand hasn’t done it favors.
Wolkin: It would be cool to see Dodge return, especially since they had an awesome design for the Ge- 6 car. Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen. I would like to see what another foreign manufacturer can do, like Honda or BMW simply because they would have great designs and would bring in plenty of research and development for a team. It would also enhance the possibility of helping expand NASCAR’s brand in that part of the world.
Pugliese: Dodge. It is an absolute travesty that they are no longer involved in the sport after winning the title in 2012 with Brad Keselowski and Team Penske – largely as the only Dodge team in the series. They appear to be pulling what they did in the early-mid 1980s when they completely disappeared from professional motorsports outside of NHRA drag racing, and put all of their money into commercials for the Dart while conjuring up every sticker, emblem and hoodscoop from the muscle-car era for the Challenger. They even pulled the plug on their Viper endurance racing program as it was poised to return to the dominance of the late ’90s. About the only thing they have going right now is an entry in what is being called the Trans Am Series. They have been absent from the Truck Series for a number of years now and only some left over Penske Challengers make an appearance in the Xfinity Series as backmarkers.
Beyond that… Audi. Because the S5 kind of already looks like a stockcar.
McLaughlin: Love to see Dodge back
Toyota sails back to the rising sun
Hyundai, Honda, BMW?, taste vomit
4) Erik Jones remains winless after bad breaks in four straight races with arguably the fastest Truck. How do you feel he’s handled it, does the team or driver need to do anything differently and has that given too much of a head start to perennial series champion Matt Crafton?
Neff: Jones is just fine. They’ve had some bad luck, but racing is cyclical. He might not be able to catch Crafton before the end of the season, or he may rip off 10 straight wins once they get the dark cloud out from over their head. When you are running as strong as they are, you just need to keep doing what you’re doing and the breaks will start to fall their way eventually.
Allaway: Jones seems really frustrated, and that frustration is resulting in him putting his foot in his mouth (Ex: Claiming that lapped cars couldn’t keep from wrecking at Charlotte on live TV when the final caution flew for Daniel Hemric, who was on the lead lap at the time). He has given Crafton a head start, but if he keeps this form, he could easily rip off five or six wins in a row. Without problems, the guy is almost untouchable right now. I think that Crafton could end up coming back to Jones, especially if bad luck strikes somewhere down the line. Having said that, Jones’s No. 4 has been uncharacteristically unreliable recently. Jones better hope that doesn’t continue, or he’s in trouble.
Wolkin: There is absolutely nothing wrong with Jones. Considering all that he has on his plate as a teenager, it is not bad at all. His KBM truck is extremely fast on a weekly basis, and once he wins one race, they will start to pile in. This is the first time he is running for a title in NASCAR competition, so his mentality has to be different, and wanting to catch Crafton is just giving him more of an incentive to win.
Pugliese: He’s doing fine. All he has to do is go to Racing-Reference.info and look how much money it pays to finish in the Cup Series, and he’ll get over it real quick, as this is just a stepping stone to his ultimate goal of racing Sprint Cup. Heck, Crafton hadn’t even won a race until a couple of years ago, and now he’s winning titles left and right. As long as he doesn’t get distracted and learns to take his lumps here, he’ll be fine. He’s been too fast too many times this year to just not be a factor going down the stretch. There’s a lot of racing left to do this summer and something tells me he’ll win more than his fair share as the season continues.
McLaughlin: Jones is a great driver
but he carries on poorly after losses
Grow up you young man.