For the first time, Goodyear will bring two different tires to the All-Star Race weekend, and teams can choose between two compounds: a harder, more durable tire that will allow them to start with better track position, or a softer, faster tire which they would start behind those choosing the harder tire. What will this do for the racing, and if it’s a success, should NASCAR consider tire choices for points races in 2018?
Amy Henderson: How much of a success it will be in the All-Star Race hinges on how many drivers take the option tire. If only a couple of guys take the harder tire to stay up front, they’ll get freight-trained, and if only a couple take the softer one, they won’t have time to pass seven or eight cars, so there are variables. On the other hand, I do hope this is implemented in points races, with the stipulation that either all teams have to run both at some point or they have to pick one and declare it before the race. But it’s a great idea overall.
Vito Pugliese: It won’t have as dramatic an effect as is going to be expected. If cars in the back are using the softer compound, they still have to overcome track position and the aero issues that accompany trying to pick your way through traffic at a 1.5-mile racetrack, particularly in a race like the All-Star Race where everyone is going all out and not worried about points. Having multiple versions of tires isn’t a great plan either; Goodyear has a tough enough job as it is building a tire for a race weekend that has grip but doesn’t blister or melt a bead from break heat. If they’re going to move toward multiple tire compounds, they first need to take about 200-300 lbs. out of the weight of the car to allow the tire enhanced durability and margin for error.
Mark Howell: While the assortment of gimmicks used in hopes of spicing up the All-Star Race have been anything but relevant (anyone remember the Wheel of Fortune many, many years ago?), this tire announcement is a great step in a competitive direction. It’ll be fun to see who goes with the softer compounds, and teams are already talking publicly about the pros and cons of making such decisions. This is a development that should be adapted to every NASCAR event, points-paying or not. I hope this kind of tire option becomes part of the 2018 rules package.
Michael Massie: It’s definitely going to spice up the ending of the All-Star Race. If it is successful, then NASCAR should use it every week. Give teams a certain allotment of soft and hard tires for the weekend. As a result, the genius of guys like Chad Knaus and Paul Wolfe will shine through a little brighter and show it to be more of a team sport. Formula 1 does it, and it is almost the only thing that prevents the field from finishing the way they qualified.
NASCAR announced a new policy this week that allows it to move the start of a race up an hour with a 24-hour notice to teams and fans if there is a threat of bad weather on race day. Is this change long overdue, or will it be a logistical nightmare for tracks and fans?
Howell: It’s both. While such an option will help address iffy weather situations, it’ll be a logistical nightmare for both teams and fans. One thing I learned from three years with a Cup team was just how precious time was prior to an event; setting up a pit stall takes a lot of people doing a lot of very important tasks. This was even more difficult for teams with fewer crew members. Toss in a parade of curious and interested fans and suddenly your work time gets stretched in even more directions. Having 24 hour’s notice sounds good, but it’ll force teams and fans to make some rushed choices. Getting over-the-wall personnel to the track on Sunday will become more of an issue, as will being able to accomplish necessary work in less time.
Massie: In any outdoor sport, there is no perfect way to combat the weather, but this is a great move. NASCAR should give themselves even greater flexibility than an hour if needed. The biggest obstacle will be to alert all fans in the stands and viewers at home of this change. NASCAR needs to be on its A-game with putting spots on TV advertising it and have it in large flashing print on its website. Failure to alert the fans will leave an angry audience.
Matteo Marcheschi: A one-hour shift is a huge logistical project for NASCAR, but the new policy is certainly a big step in the right direction. Canceling certain pre-race activities, such as driver appearances, to allow the fans to see a race go its full distance is definitely worth it. However, NASCAR must have a very efficient mode of communication with fans so that the fans know what the schedule change is and what the overall impact to their race day would be. This change would likely have allowed races such as last year’s fall Texas Motor Speedway race to go full-length and will allow many weather-threatened races to have their full lengths completed in the future.
Heading into Easter break, which drivers and teams need to be working the most overtime? Who do you see on the biggest hot seat heading toward the next stretch of the season?
Pugliese: Joe Gibbs Racing is the obvious target for criticism, but that’s not entirely accurate. There is one team in particular that has not performed as expected, and that is Matt Kenseth‘s No. 20 team. They haven’t been a factor yet this year, and he had two very hard front-end impacts in back to back weeks at Phoenix International Raceway and Auto Club Speedway. As far as who is on the hot seat, while they have showed increased speed, go with Trevor Bayne in the No. 6 for Roush Fenway Racing. He has been getting a lot of grief from his teammate, drivers and his own spotter over the radio the last few weeks. With the other No. 6 at Roush, Darrell Wallace Jr., finishing sixth six times so far this season, he’s a prime candidate to replace Bayne in the six at some point.
Marcheschi: How about Joe Gibbs Racing? JGR has been radio silent so far in 2017, scoring only three top-five finishes and no wins, compared to three wins and 13 top-five finishes at this point last year. All four of its drivers have struggled mightily so far, but Denny Hamlin seems to be having the hardest time. He has led only 28 laps so far this season, four at Auto Club and 24 at Martinsville Speedway, but didn’t score a top-10 finish in either race. Even more shocking, he has only finished on the lead lap in three out of the seven races so far this year. Hamlin and the three other JGR teams are going to have to turn up the heat if they want to contend for a championship this year.
Massie: The driver that should put in the most overtime is Corey LaJoie. He should look for every highway crowded with Easter traffic so he can learn how to drive in a pack of cars. The team that needs to get its act together is Richard Childress Racing. Ryan Newman has been doing fine, but Austin Dillon and Paul Menard seem to have some kind of mechanical or parts failure nearly every week. Someone should lose their job over what happened to the No. 3 at Texas when he missed the opening laps of the race.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame released its next group of nominees recently. Which five would have your vote for induction?
Henderson: It’s really, really hard to pick just five; all are deserving. I’m going to go with Ray Fox, who’s long overdue; Davey Allison, who left such a lasting legacy for his short time in the sport; Ron Hornaday Jr., because he’s the best in the history of his chosen series; Mike Stefanik with NINE championships; and Waddell Wilson, whose accomplishments as both an engine builder and a crew chief are worthy. With drivers, it’s all about the numbers. We can talk other accomplishments down the road.
Pugliese: Buddy Baker — first driver to clock an official 200 mph lap at Talladega Superspeedway in 1970, fastest ever Daytona 500 winner, coupled with his contributions to broadcasting. Speaking of broadcasting, Ken Squier should be a lock. Considering they have an award named after him, you’d think he’d be in the hall by now himself. His voice and direction set the tone for the 1979 Daytona 500, the race that put NASCAR on the map. Then a pair of engine guys — Waddell Wilson and Robert Yates. Finally, Alan Kulwicki. He truly was the owner, driver and in many respects team engineer. Who else had a comb holder in his racecar so he would always look presentable to sponsors? I can still picture him pushing his car on the track, trying to finish the race at Watkins Glen International in 1990. He was invested 100 percent in his car and race team, and the odds he overcame in 1992 at Atlanta Motor Speedway to win the championship are legitimately legendary. The Underbird belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Marcheschi: Joe Gibbs, Roger Penske, Ken Squier, Red Farmer and Ray Fox. I wish I could have included Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki and Jack Roush in there too, but there’s only five spots.
Howell: Buddy Baker, Ray Fox, Robert Yates, Red Farmer and Alan Kulwicki. Baker should have gone in last year, and Fox has been too often overlooked, as well. The hall should also acknowledge the mythical accomplishment of Kulwicki. He tackled the impossible, demonstrated it was possible and gave hope to small-town racers across the nation.
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