NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Where Does Kyle Busch Stack Up to Racing Royalty?

NASCAR has run three different packages at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the last three years, and none of them has produced a memorable race.  Is there anything else that can be done to make Indy live up to the hype?

Mark Howell, Senior Writer: I have two suggestions:  either 1) widen the racing surface so we can have at least two distinct grooves, or 2) move the event to Lucas Oil Raceway and add another short track to the Cup schedule. There seems to be no clear rules package that results in truly exciting racing at the Brickyard, so maybe it’s time to take more drastic (if also unpopular) measures.

Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: We talked last week about Indy’s longevity on the schedule, and in reality, the track is here to stay, history be damned.  The drivers like it.  The trouble is, no package is really going to make stock cars put on a great show at IMS.  Perhaps getting the noses off the ground would help (it would help everywhere else, too), but I think the lesson from Indy is that it’s one for the teams and drivers and fans kind of have to suffer through it for that reason.

Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: There is, and I think it has to do with the timing of the race. The Brickyard 400 would be a great kickoff to the month of May and might attract some new fans and help the speedway do more to promote the Indianapolis 500 activities during the month. A short, two-day affair would be plenty, so as to not gum up the track with a totally different rubber compound compared to what the IndyCar teams would use. From the competition side of things, the cars are wider than they were in 1994, it’s a one grove track and they’re going into the corners 20 mph faster than before. Getting the front ends off the ground might help and given them back the 200 horsepower they’re short compared to 2014, and maybe the action would pick up. As much complaining as there was about the on-track product this weekend, was it really much different than other races here? 1994, 2007 and 2009 were about the closest races I can remember. The “clean air out front” issue isn’t just a NASCAR problem — it affects every major racing series on the planet.

Bryan Gable, Staff Writer: I hate to suggest that NASCAR at Indy is a lost cause, because the track has such a special place in motorsports history.  But speaking purely about the quality of stock car racing at the Brickyard, it’s poor and has been poor for a long time, no matter what NASCAR tries.  The initial Brickyard 400s were successful because people wanted to experience stock car racing at Indianapolis.  However, the big crowds stopped coming once the novelty wore off.  I have no doubt that Lucas Oil Raceway would put on a better show for all of NASCAR’s national series, but the folks who run the sport have too much pride to leave the Brickyard.

Kyle Busch swept his second-straight Indy weekend and made history in the process after earning poles for both events. As he creeps toward 200 NASCAR wins, is it time to start acknowledging Rowdy as an all-time great? 

Henderson: I think it’s past time to acknowledge that he’s one of the best of his generation, though where he’ll stack up all-time remains to be seen. Certainly, he’ll be in the conversation, but you can’t lump those wins together, and I’m not sure why anyone does. We don’t talk of Dale Earnhardt’s 99 victories like his lower series wins are the same as winning in Cup.  A lot of Busch’s wins come in a lower series where he’s racing for an owner who puts more money into his XFINITY car than some Cup teams have to work with all season.  Busch will end his career with more than enough Cup wins to easily make the Hall of Fame, and those are the only ones we should really be looking at, as it’s his main series.  If he was an XFINITY or Truck guy, then it’s those wins we look at, but that’s not the case.

Pugliese: Busch’s mark on the sport goes well beyond his wins in Cup and XFINITY competition. His efforts are a team owner in the Truck Series have helped keep it afloat during some of the not-so-prosperous times in recent years. Along with Toyota’s involvement, both have remained committed to a series that saw Ford and Dodge both exit during the tumultuous mid- to late-2000s, with Ford only returning recently with Brad Keselowski‘s team. Despite the milestone number, 200 wins rings a bit hollow to me. The XFINITY Series has been decimated for the past seven years, and he’s been campaigning Cup-quality equipment in second- and third-tier series. Both have been completely gutted from their peak of about 10 years ago and do not have the quantity of high-caliber of drivers as they did during the 1990s and mid-2000s. That isn’t a knock on Busch, but let’s face it; most of the XFINITY and Truck series wins reek of big brother dunking on his much younger and weaker sibling.

Gable: Busch has proven his talent over and over again.  To this day his performance in the 2012 Bud Shootout is among the most impressive things I have ever seen a driver do.  The knock on Busch was always that he could not hold everything together long enough to win a championship, but he won the big prize last year in spectacular fashion.  If Busch keeps his head on straight he will go down as one of the best drivers of his generation.  Reaching 200 NASCAR wins would be impressive, but the real value of that accomplishment depends on how many of those victories came in Cup against the best competition available.  Busch is a great driver, but he has a long way to go before joining the likes of Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson and Jeff Gordon.

Howell: Busch was anointed a future all-time great back when he was a teenager tearing around short tracks in and near Las Vegas. Don’t forget that NASCAR raised its minimum age requirement for XFINITY and Cup drivers once they got wind of just how talented and competitive Rowdy was as a kid. It was obvious Busch was headed for the big time, and now here he is, winning pretty much everything in sight. His legacy in the sport seems guaranteed.

Meanwhile, the other Kyle, Kyle Larson, has ridden a couple good performances in the last month onto the Chase bubble. Is this the year he makes good on his promise, or will his team’s lingering inconsistency do it in again? 

Pugliese: Not unless he wins. So no, because I don’t see Chip Ganassi Racing winning either until perhaps Talladega, which, unfortunately for Kyle Larson, is in the middle of the Chase.

Gable: The trouble with Larson is that you never know when he might have an inexplicably poor performance.  The No. 42 team can seemingly reel off two or three top 10s with ease, only to show up the next week and run mid-pack for no apparent reason.  I don’t think Larson will win before the Chase begins, but I do think he’ll make it.  The No. 42 team has a higher ceiling right now than Kasey Kahne, Ryan Blaney and all of the Roush Fenway Racing drivers, and that should be enough to get it to the postseason.  Larson’s margin for error is going to be very thin, though.

Howell: Making the Chase seems entirely up to Larson. He’s the only variable that truly matters, especially if his No. 42 team gets squirrely during the run up to Richmond in September. A steady driver can make up for team inconsistencies, and that’s the burden Larson will have to bear if he wants to make the Chase this year.

Henderson: Larson’s in good position.  Unless someone lower than 15th in points grabs a win, he’s among drivers who are equally inconsistent, so he’s got as good of a chance for anyone.

A few drivers voiced an urge to run more than one Truck Series race on dirt after Eldora Speedwat last week. Would that be a smart decision, or is one race a year just right? 

Gable: I would be OK with another dirt race or two on the Truck Series schedule.  Dirt racing should not become a regular occurrence for the Truck Series, but waiting a whole year feels a bit too long. I’d rather get some dirt races on the Sprint Cup and XFINITY schedules before adding more for the trucks.  Variety should be the name of the game for scheduling, and who wouldn’t want to see more of NASCAR’s stars on dirt?

Howell: I love the idea of the Trucks running more than one dirt race a year, but I’m also of the mind that multiple dirt races might dilute Eldora’s unique mojo. Having Eldora become another one of those dirt races will rob the event of its recognition as a must-win stop on the schedule. One way to add dirt races to the Truck Series would be to create a Triple Crown deal where three events run on dirt (one in the East, Eldora in Ohio and one in the West) lead to a “King of the Mudslingers” trophy and/or an automatic spot in the Chase.

Henderson: I think one is enough. Once you make them a bigger part of the schedule, you have to think about letting teams build true dirt trucks, and that would price some teams out.  Plus, Eldora is cool because it’s unique in today’s NASCAR. I would like to see XFINITY added to the track’s docket.  But while more dirt tracks aren’t the answer, more short tracks certainly are; the series should be racing at Myrtle Beach and South Boston and the like each season.

Pugliese: One is enough. Let’s face it, if there’s one thing NASCAR does a really good job at, it’s beating something to death as quickly as possible and ruining whatever special aura it may once have had. Night racing, tracks shaped like Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR news shows, 38 racing weeks a year… we get it. Dirt racing is a nice novelty and something to look forward to as an annual event, but just because a few more fans showed up to get covered in aggregate than they do at nice, modern, spotless facilities, let’s not destroy something unique. I love turkey and stuffing in November, but I don’t really need it in late August, too.

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Phil Allaway

I wrote responses to the Faceoff questions yesterday, but I had to leave work and missed deadline because of it. I do have some thoughts on the issues.

On Indianapolis: I’m personally not sure what can be done under the current circumstances. The track’s operations essentially are against promoting good racing for NASCAR. Constant repaves don’t help at all, tires have been a problem for almost a decade for various reasons. The groove doesn’t move at all. There has been discussion of bringing back the apron in the turns in recent years, but the track never got around to doing it, despite getting $100 million from the State of Indiana for upgrades. I suppose that could help. Running the package used at Michigan earlier this year might help. NASCAR really doesn’t generate much in the way of hype at Indianapolis, but they need to do something. If INDYCAR can make the racing at the Indianapolis exciting to watch after a number of really boring Indy 500’s, NASCAR can do this. Ratings show that it isn’t exactly a pressing issue financially, but yes, they do need to make the product better at Indianapolis. That would put more butts in the seats.

On whether Kyle Busch is an all-time great: Not yet. It’s one thing if Kyle Busch had Ron Hornaday’s truck résume in Cup. He’s considered an all-time great in the Camping World Truck Series, just like Mike Stefanik is an all-time great on the Whelen Modified Tour. Kyle Busch is primarily a Sprint Cup driver. Yes, he has 38 career wins. I think he needs to produce a little more in Cup before he can get to that all-time level. He’s not that far away, but not quite there yet. As far as this discussion is concerned, nothing he does in the XFINITY or Camping World Truck Series as a driver matters right now. Only five of Kyle’s 83 XFINITY wins matter because they occurred when he was full-time there before moving to Cup. None of his truck wins matter as far as his legacy goes (although they do matter to KBM, that’s for sure).

On Kyle Larson: Gee, I hope so. Kyle Larson is supposed to eventually be the No. 1 guy at Ganassi. However, he gets beat every year by a dude who really can’t function all that well in Sprint Cup these days unless he’s in a contract year. They’ve made a bunch of changes with the team and it seems to be meshing well. The more I look at Larson, the more I think he needed another full year in the now-XFINITY Series before moving up to Cup. I think he can get in, but that assumes that no one else behind him in points wins between now and Richmond. If someone like Kasey Kahne, AJ Allmendinger or Greg Biffle win in the next few weeks, he’s in trouble.

On whether there should be another truck race on dirt: While yes, Eldora has reached that level of being a special event for the Camping World Truck Series, there probably should be more than one. Some of the teams are building special trucks just for the dirt races. Despite the trucks not running splitters, having what amounts to “ringer trucks” substantially raises costs for the teams. Having one more dirt race would allow the teams to spread out the overall costs of running dirt. That second race should not be at Eldora, but there are very few dirt tracks in the United States that could realistically afford a sanctioning fee to host such a race.

rg72

NASCAR didn’t raise the minimum age requirement because of Kyle Busch. It was in the aftermath of the 2000-2001 period when four drivers lost their lives.

DoninAjax

Raised? Don’t you mean lowered?

rg72

If I’m not mistaken they raised the minimum age to 18 when Kyle was 16. I think he had run a few truck races, though, prior to the new age guidelines. It was just in recent years that NASCAR once again allowed drivers under 18 to compete in the Truck Series.

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