WILL A ONE-OFF CREW CHIEF SWAP IMPACT RACE DAY FOR MARTIN TRUEX, JR.?
Following a sly appealing move by the Furniture Row Racing team this past week – appealing the roof flap penalty from NASCAR that would have otherwise suspended crew chief Cole Pearn for the Las Vegas weekend – the penalty will now be put into use this weekend, with veteran Todd Berrier atop the pit box at Phoenix International Raceway.
To truly understand the reason behind the move, you have to look at the resume behind Berrier. Having 14 seasons of Sprint Cup Series experience behind him, Berrier had eight trips to victory lane, the last coming in the 2007 Daytona 500 with Kevin Harvick.
The eight wins with Harvick in the Sprint Cup Series were not the only numbers they achieved together, as Berrier paired with the 2014 Cup champion in the XFINITY Series for a championship in 2001.
For 2016, Berrier was given the position of director of inspections at Joe Gibbs Racing. The two things that make perfect sense for the present move to crew chief the No. 78? FRR has a technical alliance with JGR for 2016, and the last time Berrier crew chiefed a racecar was for Martin Truex, Jr. on a full-time basis in 2014.
Though it was a struggle of a season, fast-forwarding to this season under the new circumstances, the two will have sufficient data to fall back from with the low-downforce package as well as a perfect blend of experience with both organizations.
WILL THE CLOSER WRAP UP ANOTHER VICTORY IN PHOENIX?
It’s the most typical headline to be found in the week leading up to a Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix each season, I know. But we have good reasoning behind it every time since he notches another win at the place every year.
It’s tough to pinpoint what makes the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team click so well with this place, especially since its repave in 2011. Five of the last seven Phoenix races have gone to Harvick as he comes off a dominating November event that was called short to rain, stealing a potential fifth-straight track win from his hands.Based off Harvick’s performance in 2016 – finishing fourth, sixth and seventh in the first three races – it is impractical to expect anything less than a top-5 racecar on Sunday.
Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing both have been threats both in 2016 and at Phoenix in recent years. Their hopes will be that the aero package and new Goodyear tire will shake things up in their favor while Kevin Harvick/tag/kevin-harvick, safe to say, will hope for little change.
WHAT KIND OF WEATHER WILL WE SEE ON SUNDAY?
I heard rumors this week that somewhere in the Nevada mountains, Denny Hamlin is still chasing his umbrella as it joyously flies higher into the persistent wind.
Last Sunday, Las Vegas Motor Speedway witnessed unstable, developing and dynamic weather that kept all of NASCAR on its heels. Wind, rain and dust fluctuated throughout the afternoon, resulting in a truly unique day at the race track. Unforeseen, too, which could be said during the most recent race at Phoenix in November for 2015’s penultimate race. There, we had rain in the desert, which delayed the green flag action before forcing it to end nearly 100 laps early.
With this recent craziness with raceday weather, what can we expect for Sunday? After all, NASCAR is known for making Mother Nature earn her paycheck.
According to Brian Neudorff – better known as the unofficial NASCAR Meteorologist on Twitter – we may be able to breathe a sigh of relief this whole weekend.
— Brian Neudorff (@NASCAR_WXMAN) March 9, 2016
GOOD & BAD STREAKS. WHICH ONES WILL CONTINUE?
Consistency is a tough deal in NASCAR. Through three races, only three drivers have finished in the top 10 in each one, with many drivers either growing on 2015 momentum or failing to make the most of the new season to date.
Let’s start with the bad, which is highlighted by 2003 champion Matt Kenseth. This is a unique case compared the other two I have listed, since the No. 20 team has shown typically stellar pace in 2016. However, that pace has be spoiled by circumstances that have led to uncommon mistakes from the organization as a whole.
The last-turn move in the Daytona 500 was justified, with the biggest race of the season on the line. The pit road penalty in Atlanta was also a minor error that could have been forgotten if the team handled it right – which it didn’t.
Then came Las Vegas, when Kenseth lost it into turn 1. Another abnormal occurrence reminded me of Darlington last year, when NASCAR ran its second event with the low-downforce package. That race also saw Kenseth lose it off turn 2, resulting in a damaged racecar.
Whether or not Kenseth and team have mentally struggled with the changing times or not will be solved in the coming weeks.
Two more bad streaks so far can be seen with Brian Scott and Clint Bowyer. For Scott, the Richard Petty Motorsports rookie has finishes of 24th, 31st and 27th. And besides a 10th-place effort in Atlanta, his qualifying figures are just as low. I will give him to benefit of the doubt that these are common first-year woes and can be built from in the 2016 season.
For Bowyer, wins and top 10s were not expected from us realists when we heard of driver No. 15’s one-year stint with HScott Motorsports. However, I did not expect him to be behind his teammate Michael Annett in points after three races. Finishes of 33rd, 35th and a more respectable 22nd make you want to hope it’s only growing pains keeping him from that top 20.
Ending on a positive, the two drivers I have in the good section are Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch. Richard Childress Racing driver Dillon is on a streak of eight consecutive top-20 finishes spanning to Talladega last October and has finishes of ninth, 11th and fifth this year.
Kyle Busch is seeing numbers even more impressive, with two thirds and a fourth to start 2016, expanding a top-5 streak to seven races long spanning to Martinsville last November.
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