NASCAR announced Wednesday that teams that suffer crash damage during a race will have five minutes to fix it on pit road, and if they can’t get the car back on track, they must park for the day. Good move?
John Douglas, Contributor: I am actually a fan of this rule. It’s a complex variation of what short tracks do with a three-strike rule for cars who continuously spin out on their own. It makes sure only competitive vehicles are on track, while minimizing cautions created by the same source. The only thing I am unclear about is how the five-minute rule will work as cars try to stay on the lead lap and leave pit road with work unfinished as in the past.
Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: A move that is long overdue. There is no sense for team or driver to risk their well-being just to make laps and maybe make up two or three points by coming back out in a car that may or may not be structurally sound enough to enter a turn approaching 200 mph. Given the new stage segments this year, one would think laps under green would be at a premium. We can’t have stages upset by a guy 12 laps down with the trunk lid held on by duct tape, dropping parts all over the track. Seems it would also help eliminate the debris cautions, but those green Gatorade bottles sure do look like something important to fall off a car.
Michael Massie, Contributor: I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I hate debris cautions. Most of the debris and oil on the track comes from cars that were severely damaged and had to go behind the wall. Carl Edwards would likely have retired as a Cup champion had there not been a caution for debris from a previously damaged vehicle that set up for the restart where Edwards and Joey Logano collided. It’s always a shame when a car that is several laps down plays into the final outcome. Additionally, this move makes it much easier to officiate the legality of the repairs the teams are doing. On the other hand, I always got a good laugh whenever I would see a wrecked car go back out onto the track looking more like an open-wheel car than a stock car.
One more thing to think about, and I haven’t decided whether this is good or bad, but this move bids adieu to old school payback. If this rule existed two seasons ago, Matt Kenseth would never have had the opportunity to “blow a tire” on the inside of Logano at the Chase race at Martinsville Speedway.
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: I’ll be the lone voice of dissent here, for a few reasons. First and foremost, have you ever been at a race when a driver comes out on track after repairs? His fans usually cheer as if he’d made a big pass; this takes that away from them. Have you ever been in the garage to see a team high-five each other for thrashing to get the car back out? This takes that away from them. The sponsor that paid big bucks and brought people to the track to see its car finish? This takes that from them. If someone racing at this level can’t get around a slow car with a driver doing his best to stay out of the groove, that’s not the injured team’s problem. And while I don’t like retaliation, I agree with Michael’s point above that this will take something away that’s been a part of the sport for decades, and I don’t like that either. Sorry, this rule takes more from the sport than it gives.
NASCAR also announced that it will have a traveling safety team for the Cup Series this year, with a rotating group of doctors and paramedics. It’s a step toward what other racing series have done for years, but is it enough, or does the sport need more safety overhauls?
Phil Allaway, Newsletter Editor: This is 20-plus years overdue. In Bill Elliott’s autobiography, Awesome Bill From Dawsonville: My Life in NASCAR, Elliott talked about how he proposed a system similar to what CART had in the ’90s following his broken femur at Talladega in 1996. NASCAR rejected everything at the time. The mid-1990s would have been a great time to institute such a system. Outside of the traveling team, NASCAR is introducing additional enhancements (the footbox, for instance) that will help mitigate injuries. Safety developments is part of why NASCAR has the R&D center. As far as I’m concerned, it is doing its job.
Massie: I like the addition of a traveling safety team; there is no such thing as being too safe or too prepared. However, the move was not completely necessary. Despite the high speeds and sometimes-horrific crashes, NASCAR has become one of the safest sports in the country. NASCAR had approximately as many concussions in all of last season as the NFL had on a weekly basis. Injuries do happen, but the track crews always seem quick to respond and do a decent job.
Michael Finley, Staff Writer: All walls need to be covered in SAFER barriers, with the only exception being Eldora Speedway due to how slow the track is. Until NASCAR at least mandates that, the sport will never be safe enough.
Pugliese: The safety workers at tracks are not an issue and were never called into question. It was a ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it situation, but given the exposure of a new series sponsor and the evolution of safety, having a dedicated traveling team can only help in building a cohesive response team that will better serve the competitors and fans.
Ford says that the manufacturer will help make sure Danica Patrick is on track in 2017 after a dispute between Nature’s Bakery and Stewart-Haas Racing left her without a primary sponsor for much of the season. How ling can this type of arrangement be viable, and could it be the beginning of the end for Patrick if her performance doesn’t improve drastically this year?
Finley: I think this lasts about a season before SHR leases the charter out and shuts the team down. Danica Patrick‘s talent isn’t the problem here (although let’s be fair, if she was winning races she probably wouldn’t have this problem), it’s that there just isn’t much demand to sponsor her anymore. Consider that Nature’s Bakery signed on to spend a little over $15 million to sponsor her for 25 races. That’s a pretty cheap deal if that includes at-track activation (essentially advertising at the mid-way of the track) once you consider Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s National Guard deal was reportedly worth $30 million for three fewer races a few years ago. If Nature’s Bakery was the best deal SHR could find, that’s not good news unless Patrick dramatically improves this season.
Douglas: The ongoing struggle of Patrick and her sponsorship will no doubt be a huge strain on the relationships she’s built in NASCAR. She isn’t to blame for a company not paying the team, but in the end she will be the one who suffers if no new sponsors come along. But the so-called Danica Era seems to be over and that will be the problem. What company will find value in a person who has had that much time in a Cup car without much to show for it on the stat sheet?
Allaway: The Stewart-Haas Racing/Nature’s Bakery issue is a complete mess. It’s sad to see, and not just because they aren’t stocking fig bars at work anyone (seriously, they’re tasty). It seems that Nature’s Bakery shot for the stars and underestimated what it really took to be a primary sponsor in Cup. As for the current arrangement with Ford Performance helping out, longer than you’d think. I’d say a good couple of years just based on how they’ve supported Roush Fenway Racing over the past few years. However, Patrick does need to show improved form so that she can attract new sponsorship.
It looks like most of the seat are filled in NASCAR’s top three series as Daytona appears on the horizon. Which was the most surprising new deal, and which driver are you most surprised to see watching on TV this year?
Henderson: The most surprising new deal was Daniel Suarez in the No. 19, if for no other reason than nobody expected a new driver there I’d also say that both Suarez and Joe Gibbs Racing got the best offseason deal. I’d like to say I’m surprised that Greg Biffle doesn’t have a ride, but I’m not. If you look at many of the drivers who made deals in the last couple of months, what they have in common is they all came with money, which is what it takes these days. Enough money will get a decent driver in a car, more money will get them in a better car, and a lot of money will get them in somebody else’s car. Drivers like Biffle, Bobby Labonte, Casey Mears, Alex Bowman and Rico Abreu (just to name a few) are popular and talented enough, but that doesn’t pay the bills, so it’s not surprising that someone who brings the dollars will get the ride.
Douglas: A New York racer named Stewart Friesen will make his first full-time run in the Camping World Truck Series in 2017 with Halmar Friesen Racing. His roots in Northeast dirt modified racing are very strong, racking up multiple track championships and breaking NASCAR legend Richie Evans’ own win record at the home track they both shared, Utica Rome Speedway. He showed promise in his debut at Eldora last season, running in the top five when his oil cooler broke just laps from the finish.
Pugliese: It was announced Wednesday that Derrike Cope has a Cup ride starting in March in Atlanta with Premium Motorsports, coupled with additional races this season. No offense to Cope, who won two races in 1990 (including the Daytona 500), but that’s a ship that I thought sailed over a decade ago. Props to him though for forging ahead with what he loves doing. As for who is on the sidelines, it’s gotta be Biffle. He’s won championships in two of the top three NASCAR series and is easily capable of winning races, given the equipment is not engineered to finish 20th. He doesn’t want to drive when he’s 50, so hopefully he finds the right deal to close out his final few years of driving on a high note.
Massie: The most shocking deal was seeing Chris Buescher cross manufacturer lines and go from Front Row Motorsports’ Fords to JTG Daugherty’s Chevrolets. Buescher is still under contract with Roush Fenway Racing, a longtime Ford team. I never would have expected Ford to allow this deal. The manufacturers are often stingy when it comes to leasing out drivers. I remember five years ago when Elliott Sadler was driving a Chevrolet in the XFINITY Series and Chevy blocked Sadler from driving Michael Waltrip Racing’s Toyotas in the Cup series on a part-time basis.
Finley: I hope when Trevor Bayne gets to be 58 he’s still just as able to find rides as fellow Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope has. Has anybody in history made more money over a period of years off of one blown tire? It’s a shame when a champion can’t bow out on their own terms, as looks to be the case with Bobby Labonte. With Matt DiBenedetto taking over the No. 32 full time, Labonte is out of a ride and looks like he’s out of options.