NASCAR released it 2017 Sprint Cup rules package late last week. What are your initial thoughts on the changes, which include a smaller spoiler and different rear-end rules as well as safety and testing policies?
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: The 2017 Cup rules will only make what’s going well get even better. The biometric data collection/monitoring feature was an interesting addition. Will we suddenly see NASCAR place an emphasis on heart health? Will lie-detection become an option? I’m all for the spoiler reduction; I’d like to see NASCAR drop the blade all together, so any reduction is a step in the right direction. The limitation on tires will be a challenging new wrinkle, too. As always, these new rules will ebb and flow once teams put them into practice next year.
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: I like the changes to the cars—the races need to be decided by drivers more than they are now. The harder to drive, the better. There were also some safety changes, and any way the sport can be made safer is always a good thing. Final judgment is reserved until we see some races, but it seems positive.
Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: We’ll see what happens after about the first 10 races. The teams found a way to get back almost half of the downforce they started this year with by the mid point of the year. Downforce and aero will always be a moving target, but tires are probably the biggest single thing that could be changed to help improve the product.
Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: Any rules that put more of the outcome into the drivers’ hands is good. The big-money teams will always have an advantage and find ways to make rules work better, but maybe at least a smaller team with a talented driver can have a little bit of a chance now.
NASCAR hinted earlier this week that there may be further restrictions on Sprint Cup drivers racing in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series. Are these restrictions needed, and if so, what, exactly, should they be?
Henderson: It has become absolutely necessary. Say all you want about Mark Martin, the fact is that even when he was winning a lot, the regulars won half the races and different regulars won, not the same three or four drivers. The real problem, though, isn’t the drivers but the owners. I’d like to see a rule that allows Cup regulars to race a handful of races each year, but only for an owner not affiliated in any way with their Cup team. That allows the drivers to race a few times and the regulars to race against them, but on more equal ground, and allows some smaller and local owners to have a top name drive for them, but no more owner point chasing or throwing five times as much money at a Cup driver’s car than a NXS-only team can afford.
Barring that, if they feel they have to allow it at all, I would say no more than seven races a year, total, in NXS and CWTS combined and no Cup drivers allowed in the Chase races. No other sport allows players to compete in the top series and a development series simultaneously, and there’s no need for it in NASCAR
Pugliese: As the sport continues to evolve and change, it is. We are far removed from the days when Dale Earnhardt, Harry Gant and Mark Martin could be counted on to compete and help show new drivers how to get around the faster tracks and how to race properly. Today almost all of the races are companion events to the Cup Series races, and there isn’t the short-track heavy schedule as there were in the days before Cup driver domination. And, let’s face it: drivers today have no code. It’s bump and run and win at all costs for the most part. Besides, what is there to be gained by getting lapped by Kyle Busch, Joey Logano or Brad Keselowski all afternoon? Pulling over isn’t a skill set that needs refining. The XFINITY Series needs its own identity, whether it’s Mustangs and Camaros or restricting Cup level participation, it’s the right time to make the change. Besides, if it doesn’t work, there aren’t going to be too many fans in the stands to offend.
Wolfe: This is way past due. NASCAR should put a five-race limit in each series for the season on Sprint Cup regulars driving in the XFINITY and Truck series. Also, just one of those races should be in the Chase and none of them should be allowed to drive in the Chase finale.
Howell: The race fan in me says that Cup drivers should have a restriction regarding their involvement in NXS and NCWTS events. That said, the racer in me says that if you have a legal car, a NASCAR license and the willingness to compete, everyone should at least be allowed to try to run. There’s never been any hint that XFINITY and Camping World races are developmental divisions; they weren’t designed to be that in the first place. To to place sanctions on who enters what and when would likely require a full-scale redesign of both of these series. Leave things exactly as they are and force XFINITY and Camping World Truck teams to up their games.
Martinsville Speedway recently announced that they will add lights to the .526-mile speedway for the 2017 season, and the Whelen All-American Series race next fall will be under the lights. Is a night race coming for NASCAR, and was adding lights the right call?
Pugliese: No. Night racing has become passe and it’s not 1992 anymore. I could see the benefit to make sure we get the race in on time if weather is an issue, but it seems like the wrong time of year to have a night race, although it will allow writers galore to exercise as many “Saturday night short-track racin’!” references as they can fit into a few paragraphs. If they’re going to move forward with adding new tracks with lights, then delete some other tracks with night races — i.e., Texas and Richmond. It’s old, over and done with. Now, if the motivation behind this is to add, say, a mid-week summer night race, then I’m all ears.
Wolfe: The addition of lights is a positive step for Martinsville. The lights will allow it to host more events and be more flexible with scheduling. While the Sprint Cup races don’t necessarily have to be night races, it will be nice to have them available in case of rain delays or a near-dark finish that has happened in the past.
Howell: Call me old-school (or just old), but I’m not thrilled about the addition of lights at Martinsville. I know it’s a done deal, and that the late models are running under them next year, but moving a Cup race to Saturday night isn’t the right way to go. There’s something about Martinsville on a Sunday afternoon that just sounds like NASCAR. Even though most short tracks around the nation have lights and Saturday night shows, that doesn’t mean it’s the right option for a legendary facility like Martinsville.
Henderson: The only thing lights will be good for is if there’s a delay and a race runs late in spring and fall. But tracks don’t put in lights and not eventually schedule night races, so it’s probably coming, and not once has making a race a night race made it a better race. Bristol is slightly better than the bigger tracks and hopefully Martinsville will be, too, but anyone who expects a better race has another think coming. The other issue is, of course, that a night Cup race would require a change in date for the track; it’s too cold for either of the current dates. Lights weren’t necessary and are likely to end up being a detriment.
Chase Elliott faces a must-win situation heading into Talladega, the most unpredictable track in the Chase. Rate the rookie’s chances of pulling off an upset Sunday.
Wolfe: Given that Chase Elliott has a pretty calm demeanor, will likely have a fast car and will also likely have teammates that will help him, he does have a decent chance to win Sunday. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best chance to win, I’d give him about a 6.5, which is pretty good for a plate track.
Howell: Despite the fact that I like Chase and sincerely hope he makes it into round three, I don’t see it happening in 2016. His habit has been to run well early, only to fade late because of some kind of problem or error. Talladega at the end of round two is NOT the place, nor the time, to continue such a pattern of performance. That said, Chase will probably score his first career Cup win this weekend, but I really don’t think Elliott will be a championship contender come round three.
Henderson: It’s never good going into Talladega with your back against the wall. That kind of mindset causes errors and errors at Talladega usually end up with 15 cars in a smoking heap. If Elliott can avoid mistakes, he does have one thing in his favor: three teammates with nothing on their agendas except for advancing him. Most other teams don’t have that luxury, but Jimmie Johnson is already locked into the next round and the other two HMS teams didn’t make the Chase, so it’ll be their job Sunday to push Elliott into Victory Lane. That gives Elliott an advantage his competition doesn’t enjoy.
Pugliese: I give him a 1:40 shot to win, the same as everyone else here. Will we see the Big One? Probably. Will we see more than one Big One? Likely. Will the No. 24 be in it given their luck as of late? Absolutely. Momentum works in reverse too unfortunately, and as much as everybody would like to draw some parallel to Chase winning at a track where his father made his name and still holds records to this day which will not be broken, I don’t see it happening. For the record, my money is on the Nos. 2 or 22.
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