The question of whether or not Chase races should be rain-shortened arose once again this week after rain cut the AAA Texas 500 41 laps short. Is there anything NASCAR could have done differently to get the race in, or is the outcome acceptable as is?
Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: I don’t think there is anything that NASCAR could have done differently. They were dealing with a track with an older surface that was very difficult to dry. It helped that Texas had lights, so they could wait out the rain on Sunday. With a little better luck, they would have gotten the entire race in. Whether a Chase race should be required to go the full distance, even if it means stretching out the race over two days, has been a topic of debate. But everyone knows the rules here and sometimes you get a break from the weather and sometimes it breaks you. I say leave the rules alone on this one.
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: It’s easy to give pip service to a rules change, but in this case, there’s not much NASCAR can do about it. Asking everyone from fans and teams to concession workers and security to return for about a half hour the next day is impractical at best and if you can’t get the track dry in a reasonable time (and Texas is a drainage nightmare and always has been), calling it a race is really the only option. There’s no shame in a rain win—it’s a win under the rules and whoever gets it played their cards right. IF the championship is tainted, it won’t be because of a rain shower.
Bryan Gable, Staff Writer: I’m still not sure why it took five hours to dry the track in the first place. I thought the Air Titan was supposed to speed up the process enough to prevent situations like this. That said, NASCAR did the right thing by calling the race. Resuming on another day would have been a clear case of the sanctioning body breaking its own rules. If a race can be official past halfway, it’s official. Whether or not the race is a Chase event is irrelevant.
Clayton Caldwell, Staff Writer: Not really. I think they can try and do a better job of starting the races with the intention of getting the full race in. That’s the only thing they can do. I think the fact that they had a west coast race next weekend had something to do with not starting the race again. It’s a very difficult situation but how long is NASCAR suppose to wait?
Driver injuries also found the spotlight again at Texas after Matt DiBenedetto was made to sit out a race under the sport’s concussion protocol after a crash in the XFINITY race Saturday. DiBenedetto said he felt “fine” and was unclear on why he wasn’t cleared, and Brad Keselowski was vocal about the decision to sit him, voicing his belief that the drivers know their bodies and their limits. Is NASCAR being overly cautious when it comes to injuries?
Henderson: No, they’re absolutely not. Even a mild concussion puts a person more at risk for a worse injury if he crashes again, and it wasn’t just about DiBenedetto here…it was about 39 other drivers as well. I had a concussion a few months ago when my horse zigged and I zagged, and one of the things I was told was that there are things that can pop up hours or days—serious things like blacking out or forgetting where you are, even if you feel fine up to then. That’s not a risk you can take when you’ve got people driving vehicles at high rates of speed among other drivers. NASCAR made the right call. It’s great to see that DiBenedetto will be back in the car this weekend after making sure everything is safe for him and others.
Gable: No. Understanding how to treat concussions is a work in progress across the entire sports world. Just because DiBenedetto felt fine on Sunday does not mean that he actually was okay to race. Given the choice, drivers would probably always decide to race in situations like these. Regarding Keselowski’s thoughts, it is possible that erring on the side of caution could prevent a healthy driver from racing. But that scenario is acceptable and preferable to injured drivers being on the track. Having a debate about NASCAR’s concussion protocol is good for the sport, but ultimately the wise thing to do is listen to the doctors and medical professionals whose expertise cannot be matched by the drivers.
Caldwell: It’s hard to say. NASCAR has been put into a tough spot due to the NFL and other sports stance on concussions. Concussions are probably the most tricky injuries in all of sports because you can’t see it. No doubt that DiBenedetto wanted to be in the car but if NASCAR didn’t feel like he was 100% then it’s their call. It’s their playground and their rules.
Wolfe: When it comes to concussions, you can’t be too careful. Especially when you are dealing with such a high speed track like Texas. What if DiBenedetto would have blown a tire and taken a hard hit into the wall? The research for concussions is showing more and more that everyone recovers at their own pace and if a driver, or any other athlete, can’t clear baseline testing, then they shouldn’t be allowed to compete. You have to remember, most athletes will push to compete and we like that about them, but sometimes their competitive spirits overrides medical common sense.
This weekend’ race at Phoenix will set the final four for this year’s Cup title. Who do you think will be the final two contenders, and who holds the edge heading to Homestead?
Gable: Kevin Harvick is the obvious favorite, but I’ve been saying all year that he would not make it out of the Round of 8 this season. So I’ll say that Keselowski wins at Phoenix, allowing Kyle Busch and Joey Logano to advance on points. Both Busch and Logano have the right mix of speed and consistency to earn them a spot in the final round.
Caldwell: I think Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano will advance into the final four with Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards. Kenseth is one of the most consistent drivers in the garage area. He can win at any racetrack at any time. He’s with a great race team. I think in general he’s better on the flat tracks than his teammate Busch and I think he’s more consistent than Denny Hamlin. The same goes for Joey Logano. I like where that team is at right now. They’re running strong and probably should have won at Texas if not for Mother Nature. Logano’s run well at Phoenix in recent years so that’s a plus as well.
Wolfe: It’s hard not to pick Kevin Harvick to win at Phoenix and I think he will race his way into the Chase with a victory. That leaves four drivers very close in the points going for one spot, and I’m picking defending champion Kyle Busch to gain the edge there. He has been very smart during the Chase, not letting his emotions get the best of him to keep a good spot in the standings and I think it will pay off at Phoenix.
Henderson: You can’t bet against Kevin Harvick this weekend—he’s been at his best when his back has been against the wall before and he’s been almost unbeatable at Phoenix. So if he can pull this one off, that leaves one spot, and Joey Logano has been consistently near the front the last few weeks, so I like his chances. Heading to Homestead, I’d say his equipment gives Carl Edwards the edge as the Toyotas have been strong at the intermediates…unless they take a hit from this week’s rule change.
We talk a lot about driver contracts, but another negotiation going on is between NASCAR and Goodyear, as the sole tire supplier. Should NASCAR allow other manufacturers to enter the sport, or should the “tire wars” of the 1990’s be reason enough for there to be no competition on such an important front?
Caldwell: Man, I hated the tire wars of the 1990’s but I’m all for competition in this sport. This one tears at me. I respect Goodyear. I think their job is extremely difficult but it seems like they’re slow to move on some things. I think the biggest problem with Goodyear is they’re scared to death about another Indianapolis 2007, which no doubt was awful. I think they error on the side of caution. Building tires for a major motorsports operation like NASCAR is not something that any company can do. It takes a lot of science and a lot of testing and a lot of information to figure out how to build a safe and competitive tire and Goodyear has been doing it forever. However, if the threat of a new tire company leads to some changes at Goodyear maybe NASCAR will get what they want.
Wolfe: Goodyear has such a strong hold on the tire contract with NASCAR, it’s difficult to see it changing. I think good competition would be good for the sport, but it will be difficult for another tire to come in and quickly be a serious competitor with Goodyear. It would likely take at least a 5-year commitment from another company to make any kind of inroads on competing with Goodyear in terms of having a product that several teams could completely trust.
Henderson: At first glance, I’d like to say yes, because I think it would improve the racing, but I think a better solution would be to have Goodyear develop two or three different compounds for each track, and let teams have a choice (which can’t later be changed) which one they will run that weekend. If you had one tire that had better grip but wore out faster, and one that would go longer but give up speed, it would make strategy exciting and the racing compelling.
Gable: Normally I’m in favor of competition, but this is too much of a safety issue. The tire wars proved that that the tire companies will toss safety out the window if they can build a faster tire. Better to keep Goodyear around, considering the company has such a strong relationship with NASCAR anyway.