Welcome to Friday Faceoff, our weekly NASCAR roundtable where Frontstretch experts give their take on major storylines surrounding the sport. Here are a few major questions we’re trying to answer this week.
The low-downforce package seen in the Cup Series at Kentucky was deemed a success by both fans and drivers. NASCAR has said they wouldn’t use the new rules during the Chase, but should they change course and use it on the 1.5-mile tracks during the championship battle?
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: NASCAR should certainly stick the new low-downforce package into this year’s Chase. With so many intermediate tracks in the final 10 events, running the revised rules would only make for more competitive (and interesting to watch) races. Anything that puts an emphasis on a driver’s abilities/skills should be incorporated in the Chase. The new low-downforce package might actually attract larger viewing audiences, and isn’t that really what NASCAR wants?
Phil Allaway, Senior Editor: The race was interesting. We saw a good amount of racing for position, both up front and down through the field. I wouldn’t be so sure about NASCAR not using this package during the Chase, given that during the tire test earlier this week, they did test the low-downforce package at Chicagoland Speedway (or at least, that’s what Dale Earnhardt Jr. claimed on Twitter). Given that intermediates continue to comprise one-half of the Chase, why not use it at all of them? NASCAR goes on and on about how “these are the 43 best drivers in the world.” Well, here’s your chance. Put up or shut up. A championship-level driver should be able to take anything thrown at them.
Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: If it’s ratings and racing they’re after, yes they will. If it’s to provide conspiracy theorists with the ammunition needed to say that they’re trying to make sure a Chevrolet wins the championship, they will leave it as is. The Hendrick Motorsports bunch didn’t look nearly as dominant as they have been Saturday night while everyone else looked to be on an even keel. We all got a good look at how it changed things for the better for the fans; will NASCAR answer the call or stick with the plan on trying to fix competition for the 2016 season, while the 1.5-mile tracks in The Chase are relegated to the standard single-file/get out front/pull away affair?
Clayton Caldwell, Contributing Writer: Absolutely! It’s funny that some Hendrick drivers came out and said they want the old package in the Chase, a package that team has dominated with in 2015. Yet Brad Keselowski, who has struggled for the most part in 2015, has come out and said he wants the new rule package in the Chase. Personally I think NASCAR should do what is most competitive and let these teams, with all the technology all these days, learn how to race with the new package.
Mike Neff, Short Track Coordinator: If NASCAR is only going to stick with their efforts at changing the rules then absolutely they should use it at all mile and a half tracks because the racing sucked less. However, they really need to change the package entirely. I will continue to beat the dead horse until someone in NASCAR proves me wrong. These cars need to get off of the ground. Not in the air into the catchfence, but the front of the car needs to be off of the ground so air can pass underneath. That one change will fix 90% of the aero problems facing the sport, and there should be a 10% advantage for being in front. Air getting under the car to the following car will make the racing completely different and better. For some reason NASCAR refuses to entertain that thought and until they do the racing is still going to be less than it could be.
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: I don’t think they should run the Kentucky package during the Chase; they’re not even committed to it yet for 2016 (though I don’t see a higher-drag package being the answer and I do think this one will be closer to the eventual solution). Two races (with two different tires) isn’t enough time for teams to adequately prepare for the Chase, which is enough of a crapshoot format without adding to that. Can you imagine if, say, Major League Baseball decided during batting practice for game 1 of the World Series that the designated hitter was no longer allowed? It would not be well-received by anyone. NASCAR needs to get through this year, choose a direction for 2016, and stick with it.
Lin Hunnicut, via Facebook: I think they should use it at all of the tracks and use a really soft tire that falls off quickly. This makes the cars a little harder to drive, and doing puts more back into the drivers’ hands. They would really have to drive the cars rather than point them.
Three part-time teams missed qualifying for the race last week based on NASCAR’s rain-delay policy. Do they need to change the rules in order to give all teams who show up a fair chance to make the race when weather intervenes?
Mike: They don’t need to change the rules they just need to actually run their events as scheduled. One hour before qualifying was supposed to take place they ran practice for the race with the 43 cars that were deemed to make the event. The qualifying could have been run, but the teams were whining that they would not have enough practice, so NASCAR ‘rained out’ qualifying and held a practice. One thing is for sure, NASCAR should pay each of those three teams $100,000 for all of the money they wasted because NASCAR didn’t stick to their schedule.
Jerry Jordan, Contributing Writer: The rules are the rules are the rules. But NASCAR can always change the rules because it’s their ball, their court and their playground (so to speak). It is sad that the Wood Brothers had to go home but even NASCAR can’t control the weather. As for not getting qualifying in and going with more practice, it wouldn’t have been my call but then again, I don’t get paid the big bucks (or any bucks for that matter).
Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: NASCAR’s qualifying formats confuse me. I thought that when the field was set by practice speeds, that it included drivers trying to make the Chase. If NASCAR’s willing to set the lineup by practice speeds, and teams know that practice speeds could determine their qualifying position going into the session, then there’s no reason that practice speeds shouldn’t also be used to determine who makes or misses the race.
Amy: It’s pretty simple: if they set the field on practice speeds, they need to set the entire field on practice speeds, with the slowest teams going home. Using provisionals during a regular qualifying session is one thing because the number of race attempts don’t come into play and unfairly penalize teams who run part-time due to lack of sponsorship. The way the field is set when it rains is the pits. I understand if all practices are also rained out, including any on Saturday, but if not, they need to tweak the system a little.
Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: I hate that current qualifying rain-out rule. If they get a chance to practice and your car is in the top 43 in speed, then they should get in. If they want to use the top 36 in points to be guaranteed in that is fine, but if the car is fast enough to be in the field, it should be in the field.
Vito: Wasn’t the whole point of the new qualifying rules to speed up qualifying in case of weather and make sure everyone has a shot at getting in the show? One round of qualifying for 15 minutes could have lined up the field, or just taking the fastest times during practice. In this day and age of trying to attract sponsors, barriers to entry once you’ve actually been at the track for four days, seem even more outdated and silly than sitting around for three hours as cars make one lap.
Mark: Sending part-timers home does little to make NASCAR look like the egalitarian sport it’s always prided itself as being. Sadly, the days of showing up with a car, piecing together a crew, and attempting to make the show has gone the way of 8-tracks. Rainouts need to be addressed so as to give all teams entered a fair shot at running races. Not sure how to do this (go by order of postmarked entry forms? Draw numbers out of a hat?), but it’s not sporting when entrants are naturally selected to miss an event.
A lot was made about Tony Stewart‘s performance this week following his teleconference with the media. What would you do to fix the situation with Smoke at this point?
Mike: There isn’t anything you can do to fix the situation. Stewart is one of the greatest race car drivers of all time. He is going to have to figure out the feel that it will take to be fast in this car. The light bulb will come on eventually and Stewart will get back in contention for wins. He is just having a difficult time feeling this package. If this situation could be fixed it already would have been because you can rest assured that Smoke is not happy running like Fido’s rear end.
Clayton: It’s a great question. I’ve been saying I thought a crew chief change on that No. 14 team was needed, however Stewart thinks that’s not an option. He likes Chad Johnston. My question is though how long can they run like this before a change is made. Last weekend at Kentucky with the new rule package was just as bad for the No. 14 team as they’ve been throughout the 2015 season. If Stewart doesn’t think the crew chief is the problem, then you have to wonder how many competitive seasons Stewart has left in him and if the sport has passed him by.
Jeff: Smoke has said he has no confidence. There is one place he can race to get that confidence back, but for obvious reasons he doesn’t feel comfortable to race there yet. And that is on the dirt. The dirt gives him a feel for what a car will do. It also will remind him that he is one of the best drivers there is. Even if he doesn’t go race on a dirt track somewhere, maybe he can go to his own track at Eldora some afternoon with just a few crew members, his sprint car and no one else and get his confidence back.
Jerry: Lucky me, I got the leadoff question and wasn’t expecting that, so I was so caught off-guard I didn’t ask my follow-up. I think there were two things in play – Tony doesn’t wake up early and he was dreading the “Why are you not running up front?” questions. Stewart is one of the smartest drivers that I know in the garage, if he knew what the problem was he’d spend enough money to fix it.
Aaron: Only Smoke can fix Smoke’s issue. Sure, there may be a few things hurting the three-time champion’s performance, but the main thing that’s going to fix Tony Stewart’s issues is Tony Stewart. The Hoosier’s been through a lot of well-documented issues in the last couple years. We don’t know what’s going through his mind, but I think whatever it is, Stewart’s going to have to work through it himself to return to championship form.
Phil: Stewart’s in an unprecedented slump right now. He really hasn’t been right since he broke his leg. I guess he’s fully recovered physically, then we had the incident last year in Canandaigua. He may never be the same mentally. Stewart claims that it’s all him. If that’s so, the 2015 season is all but lost.
Matt Wallace, the newest member of the Wallace clan, makes his debut at New Hampshire this weekend. Just a famous last name or a guy we should be watching for as a potential new talent?
Amy: I don’t think we’ll really know until we get a chance to see him run a few races in good equipment. If genetics mean anything, he’s got a real shot, Mike Wallace was always a very underrated driver and Matt’s sister Chrissy is also very talented — much more so than her cousin Steve.
Phil: In all honesty, I have never seen Matt Wallace race before, so I’m going into Saturday blind on his abilities. However, he’s with a mid-pack at best team in JGL Racing. His father has raced for the team before. His goal for Saturday should be to be finish the whole race. Let’s just hope his career doesn’t end up stagnating like Chrissy’s because she didn’t have money to bring to the table.
Jerry: Other than a name, I didn’t have a clue who Matt Wallace was or how well he races. He is Mike Wallace’s son, which I had to look up because I only knew of Mike having a very attractive daughter, Chrissy, who used to race. As for Matt being a new talent, I think time will tell. So far, none of the Wallace offspring have been as stellar as their dads were behind the wheel.
Aaron: I haven’t really seen enough from Matt Wallace to say for sure what his career prospects are. That said, he hasn’t been able to secure top-tier equipment to date, which isn’t promising for him in the sponsor-driver, cutthroat world of modern racing. For right now, I think we should just watch him carefully and see how he grows.
Mark: The Wallace clan has always been a talented bunch. Call it good communications or strong genes, but the family most definitely possesses a solid work ethic (following Kenny Wallace on Twitter is nothing short of exhausting!). Matt seems to have all of his experienced relations at his disposal, and it’s no secret that connected kids can wind up in Victory Lane. It’s a bit early to say for sure, but I think Matt will develop into a successful driver. Papa Mike should be proud.
Mike: Matt Wallace has competed successfully at local short tracks in the Midwest and has won. He may not have the championship pedigree of his famous uncle, but he has been able to hold his own with some of the best drivers in the region. Whether he should be getting a shot before many other drivers in the country is up for debate but he certainly could be a good driver in the coming years.
Vito: In his only ARCA start he finished three laps down in 10th. Probably not.