NASCAR implemented some new penalties for 2017, including immediate consequences for some infractions. Kyle Larson was parked during the Advance Auto Parts Clash for having too many men over the wall making repairs to his car, one of the new provisions. Are the new, stiffer penalties a good deterrent to breaking the rules, or do they go too far?
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: I’m good with the inspection penalties and having to go back through if you fail, because it’s pretty simple: bring a legal car and there won’t be an issue. I think the parking a team for an extra guy over the wall (but, if I’m reading it correctly, ONLY if it’s a five-minute clock issue) is ridiculously over the top, because the team is already being penalized by the stupid clock. The postrace stuff is overly complicated, and I’ll say what I’ve said for years: if you fail after the race and can’t prove something broke or was damaged from contact, you should lose the finish, the points and the money and go home with nothing but shame. It doesn’t matter if you finished 27th or won — strip it and teams will be careful not to break the rules.
Michael Massie, Contributor: Kyle Larson‘s penalty was absolutely ridiculous. NASCAR did not enforce the five-minute rule for the Clash but chose to enforce the too many men over the wall rule. You can’t cherry pick the rule book and tell drivers that there are a bunch of new rules, but only a couple are going to be enforced for one race. As for the new rules, the five-minute repair clock has yet to be seen in action, but it could be interesting. However, parking a car for having too many men over the wall is a bit much. I guarantee that a situation will arise this year where a race leader or someone in contention for the win will accidentally have an extra guy go over the wall and will be parked for the day. There will be some heated arguments when that day comes. A change needed to be made to that rule as teams that were already at the tail end of the field were taking advantage of it, but why not penalize them one lap instead of parking them? A lap penalty would be the perfect punishment for that infraction.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: NASCAR’s parking of drivers like Larson and Ryan Blaney seemed positively Draconian, especially given that their teams were guilty of putting too many crew members over the wall. If this were during a pit stop, I could see a reason for being docked (a pass-through penalty, for example), but to totally park these teams between stages at times when repairs were needed (and allowed) gives the appearance that NASCAR/the France family is looking to legislate/bully their way to respect.
Bryan Gable, Staff Writer: I’m not sure what’s more disturbing: Larson getting parked for something as minor as too many men over the wall or the fact that the teams were not sure which new rules would be enforced during the Clash. Either way, it’s not a good look for NASCAR. Parking someone for a pit road violation is way too harsh. It’s like the sanctioning body forgot that there was a middle ground between letting things in the pits go unchecked and ending someone’s day for a minor mistake.
Phil Allaway, Newsletter Editor: I don’t agree with the new protocol in general. If you’re all in favor of drivers racing harder all day long, the repair rules basically revert everything back to where it was or could even make people less likely to race hard knowing that even minor damage can put you out for the day. Having said that, rules are rules and the Larson team screwed up.
NASCAR expanded its concussion protocol last week that increases at-track testing an access to neurological assistance if needed. Are those changes enough? Should the sanctioning body be doing more to help prevent the long-term repercussions of potential head injuries?
Howell: The new concussion protocols are a positive step as long as these protocols are actually put into practice. It seems as though they are not completely required. If they aren’t, they should be. Unfortunately, unless someone can develop a way to insure that a driver’s brain will not move about inside their skull, the threat of injuries/concussions will always be there. A good decision, now stick by it.
Jeff Wolfe, Senior Writer: Any progress that is made concerning concussions is s step in the right direction. The important thing here is for NASCAR and the drivers to not be satisfied. Medical research is constantly providing new information about head injuries and how to treat and react to them. Let’s hope NASCAR pays attention and updates its policy as needed.
Allaway: NASCAR is doing as much as it can, but most everything out there right now is based upon what the drivers volunteer themselves. That’s been the issue with concussions. Drivers want to race just like football players want to be on the field. They’ll skew their baseline tests to make getting back out there easier.
Henderson: It’s a huge step in the right direction. I’d like to see more helmet technology implemented, in terms of adding sensors to measure blows to the head, whiplash and the like to give additional data to doctors. I’m not sure if infield care centers are equipped with CT scan equipment or not, but a scan should be standard protocol for suspected concussions if it isn’t already. It won’t necessarily reveal a minor concussion but will catch a contusion or bleed before it becomes a bigger problem, and it takes just a few minutes (ask me how I know…).
Pocono Raceway announced a shortened weekend for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series later this summer, with qualifying on the morning of the race. Is this a format that will give fans more for their money, or will it detract from the rest of the weekend?
Wolfe: Absolutely love the idea of qualifying on the same day of the race, especially if the race is a later start like Pocono will be this year. Basically it gives fans who can only come on Sunday more for their money, and that’s helpful considering the Sunday ticket is the most expensive. It will make for a bit of busier day for drivers, who often spend Sundays meeting sponsorship requests, but that’s why they get paid the big bucks.
Massie: Pocono Raceway’s move brings NASCAR slightly back to its roots. It will be like going to the local short track with the one-day show. Seeing the qualifying right before the race helps to build up excitement and anticipation for the main show. The only way NASCAR and Pocono could ruin this move is by jacking up ticket prices on Sunday.
Henderson: My first reaction was, “No, no, NO!” and it hasn’t changed. Consolidating things will mean more track time for fans (though qualifying isn’t really very entertaining nor should it be), but it will also mean less chance of meeting a favorite driver, because any meet and greet sessions will be scrapped to fit in sponsor obligations, and drivers will be in game mode all day. A shorter weekend also mean less opportunity for in-depth interviews and time with drivers and teams for media, and that will also mean less for fans in the long run.
Howell: The cost of attending races has been problematic for most fans for many, many years — even when the economy is strong. Blame it on hotels that gouge fans through minimum stays and increased rates. Those of us who’ve been involved with the sport know that there have always been complaints about too much practice and too much down time; Pocono’s decision was a great one. Focus the events around one or two days (at the most), and families will see their racing budgets go further. We’ll see other tracks follow Pocono’s lead on this one.
Which XFINITY and Camping World Truck series drivers do you expect to make the biggest splash this season?
Allaway: I’ll take the cowards’ way out in the XFINITY Series and say Matt Tifft. Getting a full season for one team will do wonders for the young racer. Assuming something else doesn’t happen to him, he’ll do great in the No. 19. As for the Truck Series, Grant Enfinger will impress and earn a win or two on an unrestricted track, and Ryan Truex could surprise in the No. 16 if HRE Motorsports can get the proper funding. However, it looks like a Kyle Busch Motorsports vs. GMS Racing argument in the long run.
Massie: The NASCAR world will need to watch closely at the Truck race at Gateway Motorsports Park this season, because future Cup champion Todd Gilliland will make his debut there. Gilliland won in his first ARCA start, his first K&N Pro Series East start and his first K&N Pro Series West start. Driving Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51, Gilliland is fully capable of winning in his first Truck start as well. Gilliland will not win seven races like William Byron did last year, but that is because he is only scheduled to run four races. Expect great things from him in all four of those starts. Byron is the obvious guy that will make some noise in the XFINITY Series this season, but Brennan Poole is a guy to watch as well. He seemed to get better as the season progressed last year. Now that the Cup guys will not be clogging up XFINITY as badly this season, it would not be surprising if he broke through for a couple wins.
Henderson: In Trucks, I’m right there with wanting to see what Gilliland brings. I also think veterans like Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton have another title run in them, and Christopher Bell is also poised for a great year. As for XFINITY, it’s still going to be the Joe Gibbs Show, with a sprinkling of RCR and JR Motorsports. Not much new to see there.
Howell: I agree 100 percent with Michael on this one; all the names he mentioned will be making headlines this season. I’m thrilled to see Gilliland advancing his career, and Byron will continue to make a huge splash in the XFINITY pool. If anyone doubts the future of our sport, all they need to do is catch Truck and XFINITY events this year. The future is now!
Gable: In the XFINITY Series, I will be interested to see what Tifft can do with JGR and a full slate of races. Will Tifft have an advantage as the only Gibbs driver competing for the title, or will he get outnumbered by the JR Motorsports quartet of Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Byron and Michael Annett? XFINITY newcomers Daniel Hemric and Cole Custer will be ones to watch as well. Regarding the Truck Series, Bell is poised for a breakout year. He showed a lot of improvement over the course of 2016, and I expect him to challenge veterans Sauter and Crafton for the title. I am also keeping my fingers crossed for Brett Moffitt and hoping that he will be able to run the full schedule.
Wolfe: One driver I’m interested in seeing how he does in the XFINITY Series is Custer. He’s young and could very well be an heir apparent in one of the Stewart-Haas Racing cars within the next two to three years. Or who knows, if he is a fast learner and can find sponsorship money, he just may be a second driver for Wood Brothers Racing (officially) with an alliance to Stewart-Haas.