Kurt Busch started the year with the biggest win in his career. But ever since, he’s been struggling. What is going on with the No. 41 team?
Vito Pugliese: Either a Daytona 500 hangover, or going headfirst into R&D mode having made a change from Chevrolet to Ford in the offseason. Having back to back electrical charging issues is a bit conspicuous. Are they testing a new alternator that has less drag to free up more horsepower? Even with the batteries working, the cars have been mid-pack at best, and Kurt Busch gave a bit of a terse post-race Martinsville Speedway comment with, “that’s what happens when you’re barely hanging on…” To be fair, the No. 41 team has always seemed a step behind Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers within the Stewart-Haas Racing camp. Despite the refrain from all multi-car teams that everyone has the same stuff, you’re going to have teams that get extra areas of attention. Harvick’s team has long been the breadwinner in position to win just about every race of the last three seasons, and with Clint Bowyer coming on board to take over the seat of the S in SHR, my guess is that is where the focus is right now, and within another five races or so, the No. 41 will be back up to speed consistently.
Mark Howell: The problem with the win-and-you’re-in format is that teams tend to shift into future mode once they visit Victory Lane. You can focus more time, energy and resources on getting cars right for specific tracks and specific events, and that tends to steal effort from the races at hand. R&D stands research and development, but after winning a race in the Cup Series, it can sometimes change into “Racing Is Done”. Hopefully that will not be the case for Busch and the No. 41 team.
Michael Massie: SHR just switched to Ford, and the whole team seems to be working out those kinks still. Busch won Daytona, but like Busch said in one of his rants a few weeks ago, handling does not matter there. Harvick should have won Atlanta, but that is because he is one of the best at that track. He and Childers have something figured out at that track that no one else does. The whole team is going to get good right before the Chase.
Phil Allaway: It has been a combination of some not-so-good setups and mechanical/electrical issues. Busch has really only had one good race since Daytona. The mechanical issues clearly bite for Busch, but that is stuff that can be fixed. He’s not going to have batteries dying on him every week. If that does happen, then the issues affecting the No. 41 would be very serious and result in HR having to look at new vendors. Basically, what we have here is a situation where Busch needs better cars to race with, nothing that’s happened to him so far this year has been his fault. You can’t do much if the car won’t turn. If something breaks, you’re along for the ride.
Monster Energy is trying to combine NASCAR with MMA now. How can Monster’s new way of thinking help drive fans to races when stands have been not so full?
Howell: I’m starting to think that Monster Energy, like Nature’s Bakery, might be having serious second thoughts about the contract it signed. Putting fans in the stands isn’t as easy as lining up a battalion of scantily dressed models and party-hearty football players. Adding MMA participants to the mix seems a tad desperate, especially when those athletes (like the models, and the football players) have little direct connection to NASCAR. It’s no more desperate, I guess, than having Ozzy Osbourne and Jim Rome (huh?) pull honorary duty at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend.
Massie: Combining different sports is a really good idea and definitely a way to make more fans. I thought NASCAR missed out on a golden opportunity last year with the Battle at Bristol, the football game at Bristol Motor Speedway between Virginia Tech and Tennessee (Go Hokies! Don’t remind me about the outcome of that game). The halftime show for that game should have been a late model race. That would have been awesome and more than likely would have brought new fans into the sport.
Allaway: I’m not really sure how this is supposed to work. Will these Bellator cards be televised on Spike? The thinking here is clearly that MMA attracts a younger audience to events. It is definitely a bro-ish audience at times, and that audience might clash against the audience there to watch the races (although, there is some crossover). It is similar to the notion that pre-race concerts can bring in additional fans as well. The only difference is that this pre-race concert will have people hitting each other.
Pugliese: Was that what the Joey Logano vs. Kyle Busch dust up was all about? The fact is, MMA is the NASCAR of this generation, a sport that was underground but with a rabid following, personalities that were legitimate everyday guys and gals who sacrificed their lives, careers and well-being to achieve their goal, not unlike the generation of drivers who thrust NASCAR to a new level some 30 years ago. The millennial generation is likely a lost cause as far as trying to motivate a fan base. They hate driving, cars, trying hard and anything that doesn’t provide instant gratification. There are parallels to be drawn between the two, and with stage racing becoming a round of sorts, fans of fighting sports can appreciate the sweet science of race strategy. Detractors alike will say driving around in circles is about as bright as rolling around on the ground hugging a guy for three minutes. Either way, hopefully there will be a synergistic effect for both series and fans alike.
This weekend’s race at Texas will be the first visit to the track since it was repaved in the offseason. What can we expect to see from the new surface?
Massie: The racing at Texas could only get better. That track has always been like watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, just a bunch of vehicles going in single file formation. Now the track has two different corners and hopefully it will make it closer resemble the racing at Darlington Speedway.
Allaway: The whole weekend is a gigantic question mark. There’s been no testing at all there for NASCAR. Not even a tire test. For all I know, this could be a race with 14 yellows and nearly half the field being involved in crashes like the first couple of races out there in the late 1990s. It sounds like it’ll be great for the Verizon IndyCar Series when they race there in June (Ed Carpenter seems to think so), but I just don’t know. Might not be the most competitive race on earth, but it should be interesting.
Pugliese: Let’s see… 1.5-mile tri-oval… new pavement… entry speeds of 210 mph…. yeah. Take a wild guess.
Howell: The changes to Texas will result in bent sheet metal, frayed emotions and wild aggression, and that’s before the green flag even flies over the main event. Eddie Gossage has stacked the deck with his developments and improvements, so I believe we’ll see a Lone Star State shootout unlike any we’ve experienced previously. At least I hope, for NASCAR’s sake, that’s the case.
Kyle Busch wasn’t happy with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after Stenhouse pushed Busch up the track at Martinsville, which allowed Chase Elliott to steal a stage win from the No. 18. Should we be looking for payback any time soon?
Allaway: I don’t expect anything to go down this weekend in Texas. Too fast. Bristol would be the most likely place for the heck to go down. However, Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. really don’t race around each other all that much. I really don’t think you’ll see payback. Busch isn’t wrecking Stenhouse. Yeah, he might tailgate him a bit on Sunday afternoon if he comes up to him. We go on too much about this payback stuff, as if it has to happen. It doesn’t. Not my fault that Busch can be petulant. I wish I wouldn’t have to talk about paybacks.
Pugliese: When isn’t Busch unhappy with someone or some thing? Stenhouse isn’t in a position to count on Busch being generous. Roush Fenway Racing is finally showing some semblance of speed, and with the departure of Greg Biffle, Stenhouse is the new flagship of that organization, and the one with the most equity in the company between he and Trevor Bayne. It probably helped to motivate him that Edsel Ford was at the track — so both car owner and owner of car company being there to count on you to race hard to get back in the fight, you’d be a fool not to. Putting myself in Busch’s position, yeah, I’d be mad too. That’s probably two race wins they’ve surrendered two of the last three weeks, and he is desperate for points, and a stage win would have been nice there for sure to help his case in the points standings.
Howell: I’m surprised that we’re so amazed about Stenhouse’s actions and Busch’s response. Calling Stenhouse a “poopyhead,” or whatever Busch said over the radio, was simply a natural reaction that matched the action. I’d be concerned if Busch sought revenge at Texas this weekend since speeds going into the corners will easily exceed 200 mph. Winning stages and earning much-needed points will likely be a bigger issue to the No. 18 bunch than beating up on Danica Patrick‘s boyfriend.
Massie: If Busch misses out on a championship by one point, which is possible, then he should be mad at Stenhouse. The thing is, that is seven months from now, so I doubt he will hold a grudge that long. Stenhouse did not ruin Busch’s day, he still finished second. Busch freely gave Brad Keselowski the inside groove and barely put up a fight for the race win, so the fact that he did not win is purely on him. I could say that Busch could race Stenhouse the same way if roles were reversed, but when is there ever going to be a situation where Stenhouse is about to lap Busch?
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