Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Who’s the Next First-Time Winner?

The new aero package seemed to work fantastically at Dover while it was not very successful at Kansas. NASCAR is continuing to work on the downforce on these cars. Should NASCAR keep making small adjustments or is it time for a big swing at change?

Sean Fesko, Staff Writer: If NASCAR takes a big swing, it needs to be tested at an event like the All-Star Race this weekend in anticipation for implementation next season. I agree that more could be done (although most of the racing we’ve seen this year has been great), but making a permanent switch in the middle of the season isn’t fair for teams that have already built equipment for the current rules. New year, new package, I think.

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: As with any engineering/technical change, the modifications should be made in smaller increments. Too big a swing into new territory can sometimes disrupt many of the changes that already work. Existing modifications will provide a baseline from which to assess performance and suggest additional modifications. Taking small steps should result in large improvements, but it’ll take some time.

Bryan Gable, Staff Writer: I’m OK with small adjustments.  We are still only 12 races into the year and have a few more tracks to visit.  NASCAR should keep taking downforce off if they can find ways to do it, but big changes to the basic package are best left for the offseason.

Phil Allaway, Newsletter Editor: NASCAR needs to consider creating an intermediate rules package. They’ve never really had one, just using the same rules in effect for the road courses and short tracks.  A whole separate package should be created and optimized for those tracks.  The current setup is fine for short tracks, road courses and places like Dover. We’ll get there with the intermediate tracks, but it might be another couple of years before NASCAR gets it right.

Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: I agree that any big tweaks are best saved until after the season.  Changing up the rules midstream isn’t good for anyone.  However, what’s not said here is that Dover was a day race on a 1-mile track, while Kansas was a night race on a cookie-cutter.  In other words, it’s likely that Dover would have been the better race with just about any rules package.  We need softer tires that rubber in the track and don’t last a fuel run, and we need to change all but maybe two races to the daytime.  Then it’s time to better address the package.

Kyle Larson fell just short of his first career win Sunday at Dover, and he’s just one of a handful of drivers looking for their first victory, a group that also includes Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney, among others.  Who will find Victory Lane first, and will 2016 be a breakout year for several youngsters?

Howell: I think Kyle Larson will see Victory Lane first because of his experience and team solidarity. While both Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney seem destined to win races in 2016, their teams need more time to gel and sort out their overall chemistry. Austin Dillon is looking good, but I’m leaning toward Larson to be the next first-time winner in Cup.

Gable: Elliott and Dillon have both shown steady improvement throughout the season. Elliott also has the best chance of those four to win first.  I have my doubts about the other three, because they are all racing for teams that have struggled to reach victory lane in the last few years.  Larson’s my next guess at who could win soon, but Dillon has put together a stronger season thus far and his breakout year may already be in progress.

Allaway: At this pace, I’m thinking Elliott will win first.  He has a much better team behind him than Larson; heck, I’d argue that even Blaney has a better team behind him than Larson. Dillon is right there as well; he’s clearly much better so far this season than at any time in his Sprint Cup career.  It’s too early to say whether this will be a breakout year for drivers like Elliott and Blaney simply because they’re rookies, but this is the breakout year for Dillon.

Henderson: To be a true weekly contender, consistent good runs have to come before real contention on a weekly basis, and on that front, I put Dillon at the top of the list.  Elliott and Blaney are rookies, and while I think both are capable of winning races at any time, it’s harder to say they’re becoming weekly threats.  Larson had a great race Sunday, but hasn’t been knocking on the door every week this season — he could reel off two or three wins and it wouldn’t surprise me, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if he doesn’t win this year.

Fesko: All four could find Victory Lane this season, but if I had to rank them, Elliott will be the first to add his name to the history books. After him, the list goes Dillon, Larson (most likely in quick succession – both are progressing at the same rate) and then Blaney.

The upcoming All-Star Race underwent another format revamp for 2016.  Will the new setup make the race more exciting for fans? What other changes should have been made?

Gable: The old vs. new tires dynamic of this format looks interesting on paper, but who really knows how it will play out?  I have lost track of how many format changes the All-Star Race has gone through the last few seasons.  Before changing the format again, I would have moved it to Bristol or Darlington.

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)
Brad Keselowski’s creative new All-Star Race format has been the talk of the week heading into Saturday’s race. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

Allaway: It might make things a little more confusing for fans.  The 13-lap final segment seems to have come out of nowhere; Brad Keselowski must have thought that up in the shower or something.  I’m unsure at the moment whether it will be more exciting or not; there’s a lot of unknowns right now.  The last segment should be interesting, though.

Henderson: I like the 13-lap dash and the pseudo-inversion a lot (but 13 laps? Why not 10 or 15?).  I’d like to see the 50-lap segments cut to 25.  I don’t like the number of non-winners who will get in (five to make the minimum field; three in the Showdown and two via fan vote); I much preferred when one winner of the last-chance race transferred and that was it.  I’d rather see 15 teams in it than a bunch of add-ons. On the flip side, shame on NASCAR for the rule change a few years back that takes winning teams out of the race if the driver moves on.  He or she didn’t win any races on their own, and the team deserves the spot it helped earn a lot more than a second fan vote.

Fesko: The new setup – especially the final 13-lap dash and mandatory pit stop for certain leaders – could lend to exciting racing if the new package continues to allow cars to pass. I also wonder how hard teams will be battling (or lack thereof) to finish ninth through 12th – just to gamble on not needing to pit and hope clean air does its thing. It would have been cool to run one segment on the mile-and-a-half layout, one segment on the infield road course and one segment on the mini oval out front. A true all-layouts All-Star event.

Howell: What I like most about the new All-Star format is that much of it was suggested/thought-up by Brad Keselowski; it makes sense to have drivers weigh in on what works and what doesn’t. It reminds me of when former PGA Tour professionals help design golf courses. If you want to know what works and what’s most challenging, go to the people who compete in the business for their living. Experience, indeed, counts for something valuable.

Now that the Camping World Truck Series has five races under its collective belt, are there any trends starting to emerge that fans should keep an eye on in the championship picture?

Allaway: Right now, almost no one that could be a legitimate championship contender has had a clean five-race stretch. All I can say for sure is that Matt Crafton is once again going to be a tough out, and that the two strongest drivers right now appear to be he and John Hunter Nemechek.  I think they’ll end up fighting it out.  Problem is that Nemechek has already spotted Crafton nearly half a race.  It’s not going to be easy by any means.

Henderson: I think for sure that Crafton is still the best driver in that series, and the road to the title goes through him.  That said, there are some exciting youngsters running this year, and with the smaller Chase field (eight is a much more sensible number than Sprint Cup’s 16 if it’s supposed to be about the best), it’s entirely possible that there could be a heated battle for spots among more than eight different winners.  That would certainly be more compelling than the mediocre teams vying for Cup Chase berths via points.

Fesko: William Byron is settling nicely into last year’s championship-winning team and looks to repeat its title in his first full-time season. Likewise, Kyle Busch Motorsports is looking like the Joe Gibbs Racing of the series, with Byron, Christopher Bell and whomever’s in the No. 51 or 18 leading often and finishing high in each race. That could make all the difference in the Chase.

Howell: Apart from the caution clock and the new Chase format, the NCWTS is providing us with what we’ve come to expect:  some new faces in Victory Lane, some familiar names atop the standings and a good deal of exciting racing. Byron seems to be hitting his stride, and it’s cool to see Daniel Suarez turning in decent performances on a part-time basis.

Gable: We are gearing up for another youth vs. experience showdown.  How will Byron, Bell, Nemechek and Daniel Hemric hold up in a championship fight with Crafton, Timothy Peters, and Johnny Sauter?  Also, don’t be surprised if the Truck Series gets eight different winners before the Chase begins.  One victory may not be good enough to ensure a Chase berth.

About the author

Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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