Did anyone else feel like they were watching a race from the late ’90s/early 2000s on Sunday?
With great racing at Richmond – during the day, no less! – and a bump and run that harkened back to the short-track roots of most drivers on the circuit, Sunday’s Toyota Owner’s 400 had just about everything an old-school fan could hope for.
Well, except for one thing: a Chevrolet or Ford in Victory Lane.
It’s not a hidden fact that some fans of the sport dislike Toyota’s presence – and, recently, dominance. Carl Edwards‘ classic move looked every bit the same as some drivers named Earnhardt or Gordon have done in the past, but the Toyota logo on the front left one fan yearning for the days of blue ovals, bowties and arrowheads.
Q: Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing have seemed unstoppable for the last month. Can someone (please) knock them off at Talladega? – Anne P., Chicago
A: Sorry to say this, Anne, but your disappointment might continue on for another week.
Yes, anyone can win at Talladega, or at least anyone with a decent setup, drafting buddies and some track position late. However, if there’s one thing JGR proved emphatically in the first restrictor-plate race at Daytona, it’s that they’re the ones to beat when the field starts drafting.
Executing brilliant team strategy, JGR, and pseudo teammate Martin Truex, Jr., flat-out dominated the Daytona 500. With all eyes on Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s “Amelia” ride and Chase Elliott (Jeff Gordon’s successor) on the pole, JGR stole the show and made winning NASCAR’s biggest race look easy.
I’m hesitant to say that exact same story will play out again this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, but it just might. It may be a hard sell to Kyle Busch after getting moved by his teammate for the victory just last weekend, but if the team follows the same orders and gameplay it used at Daytona, they’re going to be a difficult out.
Still, Alabama’s track offers more hope than its central Florida counterpart. Talladega’s a wider track, with more lanes to run in and, by definition, more ground for the leaders to try to cover. Handling shouldn’t be as big of an issue, and more drivers should be able to contend throughout the event.
Talladega’s historically been more of a roulette game than Daytona, offering a chance for a surprise winner à la David Ragan in 2013. There’s also a chance of some weather hitting, which could lend a similar story to Aric Almirola‘s Daytona win in 2014 to the day.
Still, JGR have to be the favorites to win. To give the team any less credit than that would be criminal after Daytona. The key for the other 36 cars in the field will be splitting the Toyota squad up and keeping them trapped in traffic. If they can do that, a bowtie or blue oval just may park it in Victory Lane.
Q: NASCAR changed the lugnut rule after Tony Stewart‘s comments last week, but they still fined him. Should the fine be removed? – James S., Austin, Tx.
A: At this stage, the answer has to be no.
For any that don’t know, Stewart was fined $35,000 by NASCAR after taking a strong stance against the sport’s rule allowing teams to put less than five lugnuts on the car’s tires during pit stops. Less than a week later, NASCAR altered the rule to require teams to tighten all five lugnuts on each tire and announced that any tires coming off of cars would result in a four-race suspension for the guilty party.
In the aftermath of the decision, fans and drivers alike have stood by Stewart’s comments and lambasted NASCAR for its decision to penalize the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion. The Driver’s Council even elected to pay the fine for Stewart if it holds.
The resulting controversy led NASCAR CEO Brian France to make two separate appearances on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio earlier in the week to discuss the rule change and Stewart’s penalty.
“I think we have to make judgment calls and how we look at the tone of what someone says, how they’re saying it,’’ France said. “They have ample opportunities, particularly with safety, to deal with us directly on that. But to insinuate that we’re taking the sport down a road that doesn’t care about safety or we’re trying to hurt people, those kind of comments, that goes to the integrity of the sport and we’ll have to deal with that. We go way beyond what any other league would allow in terms of how far people can go in voicing their view.
“There’s just a little line out there that is a bright line and everybody is aware of. Every once in a while we’ll have a driver or somebody else that gets over that line and we’ll just have to deal with it. It’s not a big thing. We deal with it. They understand it and we move on. That’s how it goes.’’
Whether Stewart’s comment truly deserved a fine is up for debate. It’s impossible to know how much this issue has been brought up in the past by Stewart or other drivers in direct conversation with NASCAR, and NASCAR certainly isn’t the only sport to penalize its athletes for comments made to the media.
Still, after the comments made by France, the sanctioning body has to stick with their call. Anything less than that at this point would be a complete 180-degree turn and appear to be a sign of weakness.
The ship’s already struggling enough to stay afloat as-is. The last thing it needs is to veer off-course.
Have a question? Email Joseph Wolkin at Joseph.Wolkin@Gmail.com and make sure to check back next week when we’ll answer your questions on all things NASCAR.
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