After strong performances to start the season, AJ Allmendinger is currently 12th in driver points, in position to make the Chase if he can maintain. Is JTG Daugherty Racing poised to repeat the success of fellow single-car team Furniture Row Racing?
Sean Fesko, Staff Writer: The team very well could make the Chase on consistency. The Dinger also finished eighth at Auto Club, matching a career-best at the 2-mile track. He knows how to run these races, and it’s apparent that the team has the car to do it. Given the No. 47’s ability on the road course races, I think you’ll see Allmendinger in the Chase come September.
Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: I’m not jumping the gun on JTG Daugherty Racing just yet. Allmendinger was sitting inside of the top five in points after a few races last season and completely fell apart over the summer stretch. Had he won at Martinsville, I’d give the team a nod for the Chase berth, but without a win and a previous history of summer collapse, I’m going to wait another month or two to make an official ruling.
Bryan Gable, Staff Writer: Last year, Furniture Row Racing was successful because they were bringing fast cars to the track nearly every week. They regularly led laps and competed for wins. JTG Daugherty Racing has not shown that same level of race-winning potential. Allmendinger could still make his way to the Chase, but it looks unlikely that the No. 47 team will go on a FRR-type run this year.
Mike Neff, Short Track Coordinator: As much as you’d like to think this Cinderella story can continue, we’ll have to wait and see. Allmendinger has had a couple of good runs, and looks to be running ahead of previous years, but he’s been running on some of his better tracks. The Honeymoon with new crew chief Randall Burnett may be a glimpse of greater things to come or just a flash in the pan. Their strategic alliance with Richard Childress Racing has helped them move ahead over the last few years, and it pushed Furniture Row to the Chase. It is early but there is a distinct chance they just might sneak into the Chase.
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: They’re not as strong as the No. 78 was at this point last year, but the No. 47 bunch is having a solid season—it’s not just Martinsville that has them 12th. A 14.8 average finish, if they can maintain close to that, should easily be Chase-worthy; that average was good enough for about a 12th-place points finish last year. Allmendinger is talented enough to make the Chase without a win, but so are probably ten others and there won’t be a lot of spots on points. But if they get in, they could go a few rounds on consistency. The difference: FRR went from small team to elite team virtually overnight, while JTG Daugherty is climbing from small to mid-level—still a credible step, but a smaller one.
Richard Childress Racing as struggled to find Victory Lane recently. The team put all three of it’s cars in the top 10 on Sunday, and Austin Dillon in particular is off to a hot start. Is this the beginning of a turnaround for what was once one of the most formidable teams in NASCAR?
Dustin Albino, Contributor: I believe so. I predicted before the season started that Austin Dillon would be a dark horse throughout 2016. The No. 3 team in particular is starting to run near the top five on a consistent basis at all tracks. Menard and Newman have gotten off to a bit of a slow start to the year, but then the No. 27 car went up and led on Sunday. The cars are getting faster and I believe that at least one of the three teams will secure a victory this season. My bet would be on Dillon.
Phil Allaway, Newsletter Editor: Gee, I hope so. We’re talking about a team that hasn’t won a race in 30 months. The last guy to win in Cup for RCR now drives for Stewart-Haas Racing. No one in the current lineup has won since 2013. Paul Menard is the only one of the three to win for RCR, but that occurred back in 2012. For all of his good form in the XFINITY Series over the past couple of years, Austin Dillon really hasn’t produced much since moving up to Sprint Cup. Maybe he’s finally coming into his own. It’s about time. Paul Menard has just been average. Then again, he’s never really been a showy kind of driver, or a showy kind of person. Ryan Newman has been up and down, but he can still put up good results. They’ve got some momentum. Maybe that elusive win will come in the next few weeks.
Neff: We’ve seen this show before. RCR runs for a title, RCR can’t run out of their own way, RCR runs for a title. The organization has been down for a couple of years but they showed signs of improvement near the end of last season. This is Dillon’s third full-time season and he looks like he is poised to finally make the breakout that we’ve expected since he won titles in Trucks and XFINITY. Don’t be surprised to see RCR win multiple races in 2016.
Vito Pugliese, Senior Editor: I believe it is, however the No. 31 team was strong early last season as well…albeit on the strength of bleeder holes drilled into the tires. The No. 27 of Paul Menard is always the sleeper team early in the season that seems to trail off as the summer drags on. While Austin Dillon is poised to post a win soon, with Talladega around the corner, that seems like it would be a fitting outcome for the No. 3 Chevrolet.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: I get the sense that the tide is turning at RCR, but Sunday’s performances didn’t come without a bit of in-house bickering. Both Dillon and Menard got testy over the radio about their respective on-track run-ins with each other. It’s no stunner that all eyes are on Dillon to put the #3 Chevrolet back in Victory Lane, but he’ll need to keep his cool if he hopes to continue being RCR’s frontman. Tempers can run just as high as expectations when it comes to winning races.
The 2016 rules package will see its first night race of 2016 at Texas. Will the late hour affect the racing and the success the new package as seen so far in 2016?
Allaway: You’ll probably see a slightly more competitive race on Saturday night as compared to last year. Practice on Thursday is going to be pretty hot, while there will be a lot of humidity for the race despite cooler weather. Given the relatively old pavement in Texas, that should make for a rather slippery track. It should be interesting. I do want to see how nighttime affects the new package. The previous one didn’t particularly race well at night, which hurt a lot of races.
Neff: The new package is a step in the right direction, but it still has a ways to go. The key is and will continue to be the tires. If the low downforce helps the tires wear without catastrophic failures, then the racing should be good. If the tires last too long, then it will be a disaster. Looking through a very cloudy crystal ball it should be a good race.
Pugliese: No. Only if it’s really windy like Atlanta was. I believe you’ll see a race similar to that one, unless there’s a GWC at the end.
Bearden: It will. Night racing should lead to a cooler track with more grip. Unfortunately, that’s likely to lead to the most tame race of the season thus far. The lowered downforce figures to increase passing, but tire fall-off may not be as pronounced as it was at Fontana or Atlanta.
Albino: Yes. Over the last handful of years the spring Texas race hasn’t been great, but the fall event has been superb. With the new aero package I believe cars will be using every piece of the racetrack and the speeds will be up because of the cool track temperatures. I think the racing will be better than normal at Texas, but expect one team to hit on something and dominate. It seems to always happen in the Lone Star State.
For many race fans, how much they enjoy a race depends a lot on how their favorite driver fared. Is there anything NASCAR and its TV and media partners can do to capitalize on those feelings, or to salvage the race for fans whose driver is having a bad day?
Henderson: Absolutely: they can actually show them. If fans consistently don’t see much of their favorites or see too much of drivers they don’t like, there’s not much incentive to watch, and fans of every driver deserve to have their favorites at least mentioned during each broadcast. If a drover drops out of the race, fans should know when and why, every time. On the other hand, it has to be disappointing for a fan to pay for a ticket only to have their guy crash out early, and some will leave the track if that happens. I think the only thing that can be done there is to make sure fans feel like they know several drivers so they can have a “backup,” if you will, to pull for to keep them interested. If fans don’t see their favorites and they don’t know all the drivers, they are being done a disservice by the sport and the media.
Howell: NASCAR Nation is impossible to satisfy completely. Addressing everyone’s unique interests is like catching smoke, yet that’s always been part of the media equation. I’m always fascinated by sponsor-based features that focus on the driver(s) backed by a particular company, especially when the driver is having a lousy day. Keeping everyone happy is a challenge. Given that the first 26 races are simply an overture to the final 10, we’re seeing a lot of desperate measures to keep fan interest. Maybe we should just let fans be fans, regardless of where their particular favorite is running. Loyalty has its limits.
Fesko: Drivers have good days and bad days. It isn’t up to the networks to spin the bad days into digestible ones. Fans should be able to understand that their driver isn’t going to win every week – even Jimmie Johnson goes winless for races at a time. Instead, the fans should enjoy the race and get excited for the next one. Each week is a clean slate, and they’ll be back to see if their driver can capitalize.
Gable: Drivers having the occasional rough day is part of racing. It is not something over which the TV networks have any control, and nothing that they could do would ease the sting of a poor finish. The best thing for the broadcasters to do is focus on the action and exciting racing, wherever it may be and whoever it involves.