Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: Predicting the Future

With a new aerodynamic package added to the mix in 2016, many things have remained the same. The same core of organizations are winning races, ultimately dominating the sport. Could there be a change in the near future?

Familiar foes are near the Chase cutoff, and it’s something that those drivers and teams are accustomed to, which helps them in pressure situations. However, 11 drivers have visited Victory Lane, most recently Tony Stewart at Sonoma at a race that featured zero cautions for accidents, a rarity for a road course race. The beatin’ and bangin’ on the last lap caused a dramatic finish. That’s what NASCAR lives off of.

The sanctioning body is in a precarious situation trying to please everyone. It’s simply not possible. What if the 15-time Most Popular Driver misses the Chase,  how bad would that hurt the sport? Will people stop watching? Will the ratings drop even more?

All of these things are possible, but unlikely. NASCAR will always be NASCAR.

Q: Brian France mentioned during his FOX interview Sunday the sport would be open to moving the All-Star Race around. Do you think it’s a mistake to move this event from Charlotte or is NASCAR finally coming around and recognizing the racing there just isn’t improving? – Tammy Lawmiller, Tulsa, OK

A: This change is long overdue. Of course, it’s nice to stay in the hub of NASCAR an extra week, allowing the teams and families to attend the All-Star Race, but a rotation of venues would potentially freshen up the event.

Forget the format of the race, which seems to change every year; the race itself needs to be better. This year wasn’t all that bad, besides the confusion that came out prior to the end of the first segment when Jamie McMurray cut a tire. The battle for the victory between Joey Logano and Kyle Larson was something we haven’t seen in years. Usually, at a track of that size, one guy gets out in front and leaves the field behind in a cloud of dust.

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)
A cut tire from McMurray caused one of the more confusing All-Star Races in the race’s history. Forget changing the format. Is it time to change the track? (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

Sure, that could be a result of the aerodynamic package, allowing more teams to have a chance in the race. But what if the race was at Darlington? Or even Watkins Glen? What about a short track such as Bristol? Over the past three to four years, Fontana has been one of the best races of the year. Why not move it there?

By the looks of the current schedule and the five-year deal with the racetracks, I don’t see NASCAR changing the All-Star race for the foreseeable future. Just think of the tracks out there that could put on a better race than Charlotte for $1 million.

The best option might be putting the race at a track that the Cup Series has never been to. Iowa, Gateway and Eldora come to mind. Imagine a 100-lap dirt race with the winner winning $1 million. The options are endless to move the event to another site, but NASCAR has been reluctant to do so for a while now. I wouldn’t expect it anytime soon.

At the end of every season there is a vote for best race of the year at the banquet. I say whatever track wins the best race of the year from the previous season gets to hold the All-Star Race. It would be different and unique, something NASCAR needs desperately right now.

Q: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had some more bad luck at Sonoma after that contact robbed him of a potential top-5 finish — at least in my opinion. He’s winless now heading to Daytona and still within a race’s worth of the Chase cutoff in 17th place. Could there really be a world in which my favorite driver misses the Chase or is there no reason to panic? – Timothy Rexson, Minneapolis, MN

A: Timothy, you’re right, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had a top-5 finish going for him before contact with Carl Edwards. But the way your favorite driver’s season has gone to date, weren’t you sort of expecting something to happen at the end of that race?

I’m not going to lie. I did. There’s something missing from the No. 88 camp this season compared to previous seasons. After interviewing Earnhardt a couple weeks ago in Pocono, I know that he still has confidence. But sometimes it seems as though he’s questioning the decision-making of Greg Ives. The 41-year-old is becoming more of a cheerleader. It’s weird because the duo had such great chemistry in year one together. Hell, I was so confident, I picked him as my preseason champion.

Now, with 10 races remaining to get to the Chase, there is a possibility that Earnhardt misses the playoffs. Just look at the stats – he sits 12th in the overall points, with five top-5 finishes and six top 10s. Once Stewart gets in the top 30 in points, he will move down to 13th on the Chase board if he has a good finish at Daytona.

Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon and McMurray separate Earnhardt from the Chase cutoff, which is kind of scary for Junior Nation. He sits 28 points ahead of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, which is mind-blowing considering the season that the No. 5 team has had.

However, the series is heading to one of Earnhardt’s best tracks. The team can’t rely on Amelia anymore after crashing out of the first two restrictor plate races this season. Don’t be surprised if he brings back a better car for Daytona and spanks the field.

Personally, I don’t see him going the next 10 races without a victory. He’s been runner-up four times this year, which has to be heartbreaking for the No. 88 team. He’s won multiple times at Daytona, Pocono, Michigan and Richmond, all tracks that the circuit hits before Chicago.

There is reason for optimism: Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t clicked on all eight cylinders yet this year, which makes him dangerous if he gets hot at the right time … which could be the Chase.

Q: I know these drivers are the best in the world, but how do they all go 110 laps on a road course and no one spins out? Is that a sign the new rules package really does need to be tweaked even further? – James Mennen, Toledo, OH 

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)
There was lots of side-by-side racing around Sonoma, but somehow all the drivers kepit it relatively clean. Does that say more about the rules package or the skill set of these drivers? (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

A: The cars looked so easy to drive on Sunday, that I could drive them. Just kidding, but in reality, yes, the aerodynamic package needs to be worked on.

The restrictor plate tracks have their own set of rules, so should the road courses as well? I certainly think so. Over the past five years or so, the road courses have been some of the best events of the year, particularly Watkins Glen. Maybe the old rules package? Take your pick on which one should come back into play for strictly the twist and turns.

I’m not saying that Sunday was a bad race because it wasn’t. The tire wear was great to see, a trend that Sonoma is known for. It makes for managing tires the key to having a fast racecar. You can go, go, go at the beginning of a run and have nothing left 10 laps in, then  fall back in the running order. You saw that with AJ Allmendinger, he couldn’t rotate the front tires on multiple runs of the race.

The package definitely needs to be improved, but road courses are a whole different animal. It’s out of the norm for drivers to make right turns. I don’t see NASCAR changing the rules for the two tracks, but it wouldn’t hurt the competition.

Don’t judge the aero package based off a road course. Overall, the package needs to be worked on. It probably always will. As Newman told me in Dover, “take the splitters and spoilers off them and it would be perfect.”

Though that is highly unlikely, getting the spoilers as small as possible is going to be the way of the future. That’s the way the drivers like them. This race at Kentucky next week will be interesting in hopes of picking a package for 2017.

If you have a question regarding NASCAR, email me at DustinAlbino20@gmail.com. Check back next week to see if your question appears. 

About the author

Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.

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