1. NASCAR ran its second new rules package in three weeks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Does the high-drag package hold promise, or is it time to go back to the drawing board?
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: Not a lot of promise here. I didn’t really have high hopes for this package as more downforce doesn’t really make good racing. If NASCAR wanted restrictor-plate-style racing, everyone was sorely disappointed, but do we really need a crapshoot of a race where big crashes are inevitable anyway? We have enough of those. I’d rather see NASCAR work with a package more like we saw at Kentucky Speedway, where the drivers can drive the cars and make something happen.
Sean Fesko, Contributor: The high-drag package was… a drag. There wasn’t any more excitement on the track than we see with the current normal package. The draft was apparent for a few laps, and then it fizzled out. It’s time to go back to the drawing board, but it’s already too late for Michigan International Speedway, according to NASCAR. Perhaps with a wider track and the ability to spread out through the corners, the package will allow for more racing. I wouldn’t get my hopes up.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: The high drag aero package run at Indy last week was the worst innovation to hit the sport since Pat Boone recorded “NASCAR Time.” It was pretty much a failure right from the start. Maybe it’s time to let the drivers’ advisory panel or the Race Team Alliance suggest feasible packages to adopt. NASCAR certainly missed the mark with this dog of a configuration.
Clayton Caldwell, Contributor: Back to the drawing board, no doubt about it. We saw progress at Kentucky with the lower downforce package so NASCAR goes in the complete opposite direction at Indianapolis and we see a race where passing was at a premium, to say the least.
Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: I think it might if they had the 150 horsepower that the cars lost this year with the addition of the tapered spacer (nee, restrictor plate), but downforce is not what these cars need to race. While testing things is fine, I think all it did was reinforce that using open-wheel aerodynamic doo-dads do nothing for fendered racecars. Might this work better at Michigan? Perhaps; Indy is a one-groove racetrack and not built for side-by-side action in any sort of car. Michigan develops multiple lanes during the day, but my fear is that we’ll see one big train of cars with the banking helping handling, but necessitating staying in line as cars won’t be able to complete a pass. I think NASCAR could just save everyone a lot of time and trouble and just go back to the Kentucky package and cut the spoiler off.
Matt McLaughlin, Senior Writer: I’m not an aerodynamicsist. I don’t even play one on TV and apparently I can’t spell it. But i don’t see how there could have been much of use to take away from the experiment at Indy though I’m willing to let things play out at Michigan before I pass final judgment. As I see it, the drivers and their council want lower downforce packages so a driver trying to make a pass can at least have a fighting chance to do so based on prowess not the air. The results at Kentucky was hopeful and well received. Brian France and his minions apparently want the high drag package to produce huge packs and high speed dicing between drivers running three-wide and 10-deep to generate the sort of wrecks that make the highlight films. The results at Indy weren’t encouraging and were poorly received. But something has to be done. I don’t care if they make the teams put hitches on their cars and tow a standard two-axle U-haul trailer like parents use to move their kids back to campus at the mile-and-a-half tracks. It’s just more space for sponsor decals and adding a rule that the drivers have to parallel park in the pits from the space in front of theirs would add some hilarity. It’s got to beat Indy.
Pam Johnson, via Facebook: Drawing board/ditch it. Indy was like watching paint dry. And if it had worked or if it does at MIS, is another ‘Dega or Daytona – aka wait for the Big One and whoever makes it through wins – pack race really what we need?
2. Kyle Busch edged closer to a Chase berth on Sunday and sits just 23 points outside the top 30. Is 2015 the year that Busch can overcome his past Chase issues and put together a championship package?
Zach Catanzareti, Contributor: At this point in time, it’s impossible to know when Kyle Busch’s run will stop. I agree wholeheartedly when people say the 11 weeks out helped Kyle tremendously in gaining an appreciation and passion for the sport and wanting to win. Mix that with wanting to race and win for his son and his gaining maturity, you can easily get a championship.
Henderson: Busch has the talent to win a title, no question. The question has always been whether he can hold it together during the Chase without becoming his own worst enemy and imploding, taking himself out of the running. That’s one of those things we’ll have to see happen before it stops being a question mark. There’s also the question of whether his team is peaking too soon — it has to peak now to make the Chase, but is it burning through resources and missing out on the in-race testing other teams are able to enjoy this time of year?
McLaughlin: You can’t call these peaking too soon because Busch was tasked with getting into the top 30 in points to become Chase eligible. But it’s a question how long the momentum can be sustained once he is in the Chase. As always in the sport, if you give the competition a target to shoot at they will respond. Right now I think Busch is laying his best cards down on the table already due to circumstance and the law of averages is bound to catch up with him… even if it seems nobody else is able to right now.
Phil Allaway, Senior Editor: I don’t think Busch is winning the title this year; he can’t keep his current form up all the way to November. Will he make the Chase? Yes, unless something ridiculous happens in the next few weeks. The thing is, you never know what might happen. Remember last year’s Chase? Kyle went into Talladega third in points, got wrecked and eliminated right then and there. Only needed to earn a handful of points to advance and he failed. Still way too early to say whether or not this is the year. Given that he’s missed 11 races, I hope it’s not the year.
Pugliese: If it was one of the previous Chase formats where it was a cumulative 10-race effort, yes. In the elimination format, every week is a toss-up and Talladega will be the equalizer. He’s running well now, but it has been a road course, restrictor-plate track and a couple of new package tests – his competition has been locked into the Chase for the past four months, working on things for this fall. For all of the talk of the elimination format making every race count… eh, not really. It actually makes the final 10 that much more important, and if you’ve won a race in the first 26, you’re really just biding time until Chicago.
3. Hendrick Motorsports has often dominated at Indianapolis, but none of the team’s drivers led a single lap on Sunday, and the highest finishing driver was Jimmie Johnson in 15th. What is going on at the four-car organization that is preventing it from contending for wins at some of its best tracks?
McLaughlin: I haven’t got a clue why the No. 5 team and the No. 24 are having lackluster runs as of late. My guess is that the No. 88 and the No. 48 are in full testing mode to prepare for the 10-race stretch that counts. It seems an annual event over the last few years when the No. 48 team languishes in the summer doldrums and a lot of folks write them off as non-contenders. Those folks do so at their own peril. Once again, the silly Chase 2.0 format is a study in the law of unintended consequences.
Fesko: Something’s amiss at HMS, but is it something to really worry about? No. The team has six wins through 20 races this season and two drivers locked into the Chase. Jeff Gordon’s farewell tour isn’t going as planned, but other than 2014, he’s running about as well as he has the past half-dozen years. Same deal with Kasey Kahne. I don’t think it’s so much that Hendrick is a step behind as it is Gibbs and Penske really stepping it up the last two years.
Allaway: The new rules probably aren’t helping them right now. However, this weekend’s Windows 10 400 will be run with the regular rules. If they struggle Sunday, then they have a real problem. Right now, I’m not willing to sound the alarm. Remember, Jimmie Johnson would have finished a lot better than 22nd at Loudon had he not copped a penalty. If Sunday’s another race with no Hendrick cars finishing better than 15th, then they’ll need to re-evaluate.
Catanzareti: Kahne has been a decent driver for a couple years now, so on my side, I am not surprised to see him winless and on the cliff of Chase contention. Johnson has shown fantastic speed this year with four wins but more often than not is barely a top-10 car and has been horrible in qualifying at times. Nothing incredibly new, but it’s been happening more in 2015. I put Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the team’s leading horse with consistency, while Gordon is one of the real head-scratchers of the year. I don’t know if the final year is having a negative feel to Gordon like some people predicted in January, but I believe the different packages have been an area of struggle as well.
Caldwell: It’s hard to believe that HMS has struggled a bit in 2015. Aside from the No. 48 team the other three teams have some work to do to compete for a championship. The Nos. 24 & 5 shop has not been great all year long. Gordon is currently 11th in points without a win and Kahne is 14th in the standings. Earnhardt has been dynamite on the plate tracks this season but other than that has not had the same success as 2014. Whether or not the Nos. 88 & 48 are just experimenting for the Chase or not remains to be seen but the team has not nearly been as dominate as years past.
4. The Camping World Truck Series returns to action at Pocono, a track where few of its drivers have much experience. Who’s the favorite to win at the Tricky Triangle?
Allaway: Well, this might begin and end with the two Cup regulars whacking the series for the first time this year. Kevin Harvick is a tough out whenever he shows up. Despite JR Motorsports’ limited experience on big tracks with the trucks, it won with Kahne at Charlotte, demoralizing Erik Jones in the process. Then you have Busch. Wouldn’t be shocked if he wins the pole, leads 58 of 60 laps and wins the race. For the regulars, I’m going with the aforementioned Jones.
Henderson: Of course, the smart money’s on Harvick and Busch, who come in with more experience and more money than most of the field. As for the regulars, I wouldn’t overlook Matt Crafton anywhere. He’s the best in the CWTS and I expect him to be strong.
Pugliese: Looks like Busch is on the entry list. So, Busch.
Howell: Best bet to win the truck race at Pocono this weekend has to be one of the Sprint Cup regulars who’ve entered the event. I’m thinking that both Harvick and Busch will be tough to beat, with the advantage going to Busch. Beware of Kyle whenever he follows up a previous second-place finish.
Catanzareti: The clear choices are Harvick and Busch but I’ll watch out for Jones, John Hunter Nemechek and Ben Kennedy – three drivers who have impressed me on different style of tracks and seem to be getting their butts toward the front lately.
McLaughlin: The way he’s running right now betting on anyone but Busch is like wagering the mortgage money that Lindsay Lohan is going to spend her summer vacation at a cloistered nunnery. Joe Gibbs and his satellite teams wouldn’t bend over to pick up the amount of money most of the full-time truck teams have invested in their programs. Since they don’t have a title sponsor for the event anyway, maybe they can call Saturday’s race the Shooting Fish in a Barrel 150? If Busch falters, Harvick and Brad Keselowski will be there as well. You know what I’ve noticed about all these guys moonlighting in Saturday races? They don’t own Harley Davidsons and thus they’ve got nothing better to do with their time on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Caldwell: Harvick. Let’s face it, anything the guy touches is gold lately, and that No. 00 team has been great this year, whether it’s been Cole Custer or Kahne.
Fesko: Busch and Harvick will go toe-to-toe on Saturday. They’re driving two of the best trucks in the series, and as Cup interlopers, their previous experience will serve them well. As for Truck regulars? Expect Jones and Crafton to run up front as they have all season.
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