Austin Wayne Self is the second driver to feature Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on his truck. Should NASCAR make a rule about drivers using sponsorless entries to support a political campaign? If so, would it violate freedom of speech?
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: It isn’t a First Amendment violation. NASCAR isn’t a government entity, and it isn’t arresting anyone for putting a political sticker on their cars. That said, I guess an owner can put a political ad on their car if they want to. I’d have an issue with it of NASCAR allowed some candidates and not others, but other than that, whatever floats your boat, I guess.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: While prohibiting political endorsements on a racecar would likely be a violation of the First Amendment, they often reduce the driver to little more than a stereotype. The candidates are almost always steadfastly Republican, and often said candidate is a firebrand of sorts who seeks the support and recognition of our sport’s traditional/cliched demographic. We used to talk a lot about “NASCAR dads,” but the title has always seemed rather forced. I don’t think political candidates should be allowed to advertise on a racecar. A blank fender or hood says more about the financial demands of our sport than an eager politician does.
Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: Why not? You’re forced to see somebody’s bumper sticker while stuck in traffic — now Austin Wayne Self IS the traffic that faster cars are stuck behind. I wouldn’t care one way or another what candidate had their mug on a racecar; it’s their car, their money (or lack thereof), they’re free to do what they want. Only exception would be Talladega Superspeedway; probably not the best location to show up with HRC on the quarters. Feel like it would elicit some Budweiser from the Lincoln Tower grandstands.
Ryan Newman’s contract extension at Richard Childress Racing creates no room at the inn for Ty Dillon as of now. Should RCR expand to a fourth team to accommodate him in 2017, should he end up somewhere else in Cup full-time or spend at least another year in the XFINITY Series?
Howell: Ty Dillon needs another year at the XFINITY level. While the young man most certainly has talent and will become a Cup regular someday soon, he would benefit from additional seat time in an XFINITY ride. I’m not entirely sure how fans might react to Dillon getting a fourth RCR entry; there seems to be animosity given that Grandpa owns the team and Dad helps call the shots. Keeping Dillon in an XFINITY car next season will help him better earn his eventual promotion.
Pugliese: Ty Dillon has one XFINITY Series win — two years ago. Not sure why one would just assume he’s in line for a Cup ride. That said, it is a bit surprising that Dillon hasn’t had more success in the lower series, as I always thought coming up he showed more potential than his brother Austin Dillon. He will land a ride somewhere – be it with Germain Racing or JTG Daugherty Racing, in some form of RCR car – but at 22 years old, there’s really no reason to rush things along at this point and Logano the guy.
Henderson: RCR shouldn’t expand unless there is solid sponsorship; otherwise it just brings down the whole organization. Dillon thinks he’s ready, but face it, he has one XFINITY win in the same equipment his brother has several in, and he fell out of the Chase in the first round. That doesn’t really scream “deserving of a top-flight Cup ride” to me. That said, I wonder if Circle Sport Leavine Family Racing is gearing up to put Dillon in the No. 95 next year. It just hired the crew chief they used for his races full-time, and Michael McDowell’s contract is up after this year while RCR satellites Germain Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing just sewed up their drivers in three-year contracts. It makes me wonder if some kind of swap is in the works, perhaps putting McDowell in an RCR NXS car. He entered one NXS race for the team this year and won it, so he has more wins on the year than Dillon.
At the moment, the Sprint Cup final eight consists of five drivers with Joe Gibbs Racing chassis, two drivers with Hendrick chassis and just one from Team Penske and Ford. Is that lack of diversity on top of the points one of the reasons the sport has suffered from record low ratings this year?
Pugliese: The breakdown in chassis manufacturers or engine suppliers have zero to do with NASCAR’s continued ratings decline. With the exception of the plate races and road courses, the competition has been a bit pedestrian this season. The Chase itself conspires to make the first 26 races diminished in their importance, the insistence on trying to make it a carbon copy of the NCAA Final Four tournament, and the notion that a driver 16th in points is championship material, it’s grown a bit stale and long in the tooth. Every year it’s the same tracks, the same drivers (save for one or two), the same order. It’s not working. Scrap it.
Henderson: I’ve said it before: one team doesn’t make or break the entire sport. I agree with Vito that the Chase itself is a bigger issue; ratings were more stable earlier in the season and have dropped like a rock for the Chase. Seeing some other drivers have success would be great for the sport, but I don’t think that a few teams on top are the cause of most of the issues—there have always been teams at the top and the sport has survived this long, even boomed. We have to look at what has changed to see what might be to blame, and that’s not it.
Howell: Regardless of what NASCAR says, the usual suspects are always atop the leaderboard, the point standings and the Chase. Look at the excitement generated by Chris Buescher and his Front Row Motorsports success at Pocono Raceway; even though it was a win decided by Mother Nature, seeing a relatively unknown driver take the green flag (with Roush Fenway Racing’s help) as a Chase participant at Chicagoland gave the postseason a bit of a positive vibe, albeit short-lived. Seeing the same names winning week-in and week-out does little to inspire novelty, but that’s the nature of the business right now.
Austin Dillon’s late pit stop during the NASCAR XFINITY Series race gave his brother Ty, who was fighting for a spot in the series Chase Round of 8, much-needed position, but the move raised the eyebrows of some, citing the Michael Waltrip Racing scandal at Richmond International Raceway a few years ago and NASCAR’s response to that as a reason to penalize one or both Dillon brothers (Ty ultimately still fell short of advancing). Is there a way for NASCAR to police situations like that one, or should it slide?
Henderson: It should slide. The situation is impossible to police (Dillon could have had a loose lugnut at Charlotte, even though he probably didn’t), and NASCAR kind of bit off a lot to chew making the rule. I think in the case of Clint Bowyer spinning in traffic, situations like that should definitely be penalized as it’s a safety issue, but pulling into the pits is kind of sleazy but not dangerous. Pulling over on track is worse than that but not as bad as a spin. But really, unless NASCAR makes a rule only allowing single-car teams, teamwork is a fact of life in the sport, and as long as it’s not dirty, it’s not worth getting any panties in a twist over.
Howell: The Spingate episode at Richmond left a nasty taste in everyone’s mouth, even though team politics have always been part of the multi-car dynamic. Look at what we’ve seen in Formula 1 and other forms of open-wheel competition over the years; blood, heredity and ownership are thicker than water, so a teammate in need is helped indeed. Like it or not, that’s racing.
Pugliese: It all depends on who is doing the rule breaking. This is the second time an RCR car has taken a dive to help another teammate in the last five years — remember Paul Menard “blowing a tire” when Kevin Harvick needed an assist to get in the Chase at Richmond in 2011? Why would there be an expectation that anything would be done here? Again, lack of consistency with rules enforcement is what perpetuates the conspiracy theories of influenced outcomes.
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