NASCAR did not issue any penalties to Kyle Busch, Joey Logano or the crewmen involved in Sunday’s post-race pit road brawl. Was this the right call, or should there have been some form of punishment?
Amy Henderson: There should have been penalties in the form of fines and probation for Busch and suspensions for the crewmen from both teams who got involved. Why? Because that’s what NASCAR has handed out for the exact same thing. in the past. Without notice of a rules change, you can’t just penalize guys left and right and then a few months later turn around and do absolutely nothing. If I were Brad Keselowski or Casey Mears, I’d be asking NASCAR for a refund. As for publicity, I’m torn. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but for a sport that denied a team sponsorship a few years back because the potential backer had the word “Redneck” in the name, allowing drivers to brawl on pit road every time they have an on-track disagreement seems slightly contradictory to that particular stance.
Frank Velat: No penalty is absolutely the correct move here. You can’t say “Boys, have at it.” and then penalize them when they do just that. Besides, what would the penalty even be for? Actions detrimental to stock car racing? NASCAR has been featured on national news, sports programs of every variety, even TMZ this week. I fail to see any detriment in such exposure.
Vito Pugliese: It depends on what the reasoning behind it was. Are we looking for a tacit endorsement of “boys have at it” or are we trying to sell tickets? I don’t think we should make this a regular thing where one guy thinks he’s been wronged, and everyone expects there to be a fist fight on pit road. Sure in the old days there were dust ups in the pits, but those were guys who were natural born scrappers and had to be to simply survive. Different era and generation, but the pressures to perform and maintain their place in the pecking order has brought upon their own set of challenges. NASCAR always enjoys a good bump in publicity when these types of things happen, and with March Madness underway, it helps bring some eyes back on the oval. If anything, when NASCAR meets with the drivers this week in Phoenix, they should slide them a briefcase with $20,000 a piece in them for helping the sport.
John Douglas: This is always a hard topic for me. On the one hand, this sport needs rivalries. BADLY. The 1979 Daytona 500 didn’t shock the television audience held captive by a snowstorm by having close, fair competition, though that is supremely important. It shocked them, because two big, dirty, angry southern men proceeded to have the first street fight on live TV before Dana White was old enough to know what a submission hold was. Then again, is it worth risking a possible concussion and being pulled out of the race car over an emotional response bordering on the likes of a fifth grader on the playground? There has to be a point where NASCAR steps in and says enough.
The entry list for Phoenix is just 39 drivers once again. NASCAR already reduced the field size to 40, but still can’t seem to fill it. What can the sanctioning body do to help encourage teams to enter, even without a charter?
Michael Massie: The solution is simple: increase the purse available to Open teams. The reason they aren’t showing up is because they will lose money off of it. Also, there needs to be an initiative that is inviting to Open teams. The IndyCar race at Las Vegas that claimed Dan Wheldon’s life a few years back, the only reason Wheldon was in that race is because IndyCar made an offer that any non-full-time driver could win a chunk of money if they won the race. Throw out a promotion like that and there will be Open teams showing up.
Pugliese: I don’t see the problem with having a short field. What are you really losing besides another car five laps down by the end of a 300-mile race? We used to have 36-car fields and it wasn’t an issue. It’s a commentary on the state of auto racing in general, not just NASCAR. It used to be a trip to Phoenix and Sonoma would bring out the west coast drivers and names we didn’t hear so often. I’d rather have a smaller field of competitive cars than six or seven smokers and start ‘n parkers, as a full field doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things.
Douglas: There is no easy answer to this. The easiest way, if there is one? Cut operating cost. How? Frankly, if this is supposed to be stock car racing, we’ve got zero business using wind tunnels, 7 Post Rigs, Shock/Chassis dynos and other ridiculous means of circumventing a lack of physical testing. If a team wants to make races, they have to be able to compete. Do times change? Sure they do. However, I look at NASCAR’s K&N Series and personally think that’s what the Monster Energy Cup Series could be if not for the ridiculous technology that has entered this sport. If that were the formula, more owners could pay to play, and probably would. NASCAR has never been Formula One. We don’t need fancy aero and $9 billion in technological garbage. We just need good competitive racing, and personalities to go with it.
Henderson: I agree with what’s been said — racing is too expensive for new owners to see value in it. You can talk passion all you want, but passion will leave you dead broke. It’s not just about cutting cost for things like tires and hotel bills; it’s about finding a way to cut spending from the top down. For the smaller teams to compete, the larger teams would have to stop throwing money around. The problem here is that that would never happen voluntarily. Can NASCAR impose spending caps under the charter system? I’m not sure how you’d enforce them, but there’s a better chance that something could be done under this system because NASCAR holds a little more power.
Three races into the season and there are some pretty big winners and losers showing up in the standings. Who is the biggest surprise so far, either good or bad? Does anyone need to be concerned yet?
Pugliese: The biggest surprise has been the consistency displayed by Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford. Their alignment with Penske has paid off handsomely, as the Roush cars although improved, still have a way to go until they’re in the same league as the Nos. 2, 22 and now the 21 team. The No. 88 team of Dale Earnhardt Jr has been out to lunch the last couple of weeks, at tracks he traditionally does quite well at. Also a disappointment has been the No. 11 of Denny Hamlin, a team I thought would be contending early and often for wins this year, fresh off his contract extension. It’s still early in the season; and certainly not indicative of where they will end up in September.
Douglas: I too have to go with Ryan Blaney. Sixth in the point standings, and possibly the most consistent driver so far this season? In an episode of ‘Up Up Down Down’, a YouTube gaming channel run by WWE’s Xavier Woods, Blaney said he wants his father’s nickname “Buckeye Bullet.” So far this season, he’s living up to the family moniker.
Henderson: The biggest surprise? How about the defending series champion and his 21.3 average finish? That Jimmie Johnson is struggling this hard, this early should certainly send up a red flag. Matt DiBenedetto, with the tiny No. 32 team has a better average and more top 10s than Johnson. It may not be time to hit the panic button yet, but they might want to locate it, just in case. Speaking of DiBenedetto, that No. 32 team is having a great start to 2017 considering the equipment they have. Another pleasant surprise is Kyle Larson, who’s starting to look like he could have a breakout year.
Velat: The biggest surprise to me has been Ganassi. Kyle Larson is unbelievably close to having three straight wins to start the season. He has been strong and his teammate Jamie McMurray also came rocketing out of the gate in 2017. McMurray has back to back top 10s and has run well in all three events. Meanwhile, what is going on with the south building at Hendrick Motorsports? Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr have combined for exactly zero top ten finishes this season. Don’t expect that continue for too long but it’s certainly surprising.
Massie: The biggest surprise is Trevor Bayne. He sits 11th in points due to three consistent runs. His cars look a lot faster this season and he could potentially get Roush Fenway Racing back into the Chase. The biggest disappointment is JTG Daugherty Racing as a whole. After three races, Chris Buescher and A.J. Allmendinger are 33rd and 34th in points. They trail Michael Waltrip, who only competed in one of those three races. That’s just sad. Saying the team is experiencing growing pains is an understatement.
Buzz has grown in recent weeks about a possible return to NASCAR by Dodge. Is the time ripe for a new manufacturer, and which teams might benefit from making the switch?
Velat: Dodge has a strong motorsports pedigree and there are many teams that would likely think about making the change. Petty, JTG Daugherty, maybe Front Row. But Dodge would want a flagship team and one organization stands out to me as an option: Ganassi. Ganassi has a history with Dodge and no other teams out there who would be willing to carry the torch are even close to being premier. I would be surprised if Ganassi didn’t at least entertain the idea in the event Dodge returns to NASCAR.
Massie: For NASCAR to truly be associated as THE hub for racing American stock cars, then every American-made manufacturer should be involved. Dodge has so much history in the sport. When I think of the No. 43, I think of Dodge, and that is a team that desperately needs to switch to a new manufacturer throwing around money. If Dodge has the resources to pour into NASCAR, then there is no time quite like the present. On another note, just imagine how much it would shake up the game if Tesla joined the mix.
Douglas: While I want Dodge to return in the biggest of ways, I still think the timing is wrong for them, or anyone else at this point. The super-teams have a stranglehold on most of the top 20 positions in a reduced in size field. The current crop of owners outside the super-teams will have a hard time convincing anyone that they can step up. Maybe if Furniture Row had waited to switch from their RCR partnership a few seasons ago, there would be a legitimate possibility.
Henderson: I think it depends on how big a monetary commitment Dodge is willing (and able) to make. If they’re able to offer a team (and Chip Ganassi Racing would be at the top of my list, along with Richard Petty’s operation; a few smaller teams might do well also, if they get a major commitment from the manufacturer) the kind of sweetheart deal that Ford gave Stewart-Haas, along with full support and R&D the way Ford has done, then yes, there is absolutely room for one more at the table. If they’re not on board with a major expenditure and continued development, it would be a waste of resources for them, because they will need to take a middle-tier team and make it a top team. I don’t see a top team willing to bail on the sure thing they already have.