Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: How Much Wrecking Is Too Much?

Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team received penalties for failing laser inspection following the race at Talladega Superspeedway, including a loss of points for Almirola and owner Richard Petty and a three-race suspension and fine for crew chief Drew Blickensderfer.  Did NASCAR do the right thing, staying in line with the penalty received earlier this season by Brad Keselowski for the sake of consistency?

Matteo Marcheschi: Fans have been begging for NASCAR to enforce its rules for a long time, so this is a big step in the right direction. Between Aric Almirola this week and Joey Logano at Richmond, NASCAR is finally taking steps to keep teams accountable. Obviously teams will continue pushing the envelope, but now if they overstep the boundaries, they’ll get a punch in the gut, not a slap on the wrist.

Amy Henderson: You have to be consistent.  Remember, teams are given a certain tolerance post-race to account for heat cycles, so if a team can’t be within the rules, that’s on them.  NASCAR does review incidents separately and could have a lesser penalty depending on how far off a car is, but then you’d have fans complaining of favoritism, yadda yadda. Really, NASCAR made the right call here given that it continues to refuse to just take finishing positions and get it over with, which is what should have been happening all along.

Michael Massie: Brad Keselowski put it the best when he said its like getting thrown in jail for driving 3 mph over the speed limit. The penalty is so severe for being just a little bit off. The penalties should be based on the amount that a part is out of line. The smaller the difference, the lesser the penalty.

Vito Pugliese: NASCAR did not do the right thing with either. There should not be a penalty in the first place for failing laser inspections — mainly because we shouldn’t have lasers measuring stock cars. When we’re penalizing people and raising the specter of cheating, over the difference of something as insignificant as one-third the thickness of a credit card is downright lunacy. The rules and manner which these cars are scrutinized needs to be addressed, not the actions of the teams. For all that NASCAR has done right this year, it needs to be taken to task for these festival of rules that do nothing to improve the product on the track or reduce the cost to teams.

This weekend, the Cup Series returns to a 1.5-mile oval for the first time in a month.  Can we expect anything different at Kansas Speedway now that teams have had time to tweak their cars with the still-new 2017 package?

Massie: You can’t keep Joe Gibbs Racing or Stewart-Haas Racing down forever. Both of those teams will find their way into Victory Lane soon at the mile-and-a-halves.  Kyle Larson will also soon score his first ever victory at a 1.5-mile track. I imagine that the Wood Brothers do not have a ton of wins at the intermediate tracks, as not a lot were on the schedule during the team’s glory days, but that is about to change, as Ryan Blaney will soon be racking up 1.5-mile wins.

Bryan Gable: Don’t expect any big surprises.  Penske, Ganassi, the Nos. 48 and 78 will be the teams to beat, like they have been on all the intermediate tracks this season. This is a great opportunity for Kevin Harvick to notch his first win of the year, but a Harvick victory at Kansas would not be a shock.

Phil Allaway: Well, we have the first night race of the season this weekend, which will result in a different race.  This is the true test of the new aerodynamic package.  Can it make this 400-mile intermediate night race more exciting?  It could.

Michael Finley: It should be the same it has been all year, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the Toyotas have found something since then. All I know is that NASCAR really needs some balance in this aspect of the schedule; after the Coca-Cola 600 in a few weeks, there isn’t another 1.5-miler until the playoffs, of which they make up half the races. Next year, 60 percent of playoff races will probably be held on 1.5-mile tracks with the addition of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That’s way too much for one track type.

Last weekend’s race at Talladega had a few single-car and smaller incidents, but only one Big One. The Daytona 500, on the other hand, was a melee, with a much-reduced field taking the checkered flag. How much wrecking is too much, and is there such as thing as not enough incidents on track?

Henderson: Part of me says any wrecking at all is too much.  These drivers are, after all, humans, and they have families and friends. At the end of the day, an injury or worse is a big price to pay.  But there needs to be authentic cautions during races, and with the cars being so durable with no place for teams to take mechanical risks, crashes seem to be the only way to get them.  There’s no easy answer here; the element of danger and uncertainty in a race is important to the fan experience, but the cost of that can be high.

Pugliese: If the wrecks are happening at the front of the pack, at least they’re trying for the win. Things happen, and it’s part of the natural ebb and flow of a race that makes it interesting to see it play out. It gets to be too much when you have back markers wrecking, racing for 25th, ruining the outcome of the race for the contenders.

Massie: Tons of casual fans watch Daytona International Speedway and Talladega for the Big One. It is a huge selling point for both tracks. You don’t want there to be too many wrecks though, as it slows the race down too much and causes it to lose some of its mojo. Having a carnage-filled race is vintage NASCAR though. In the 1950s and ’60s, the cars that won were the cars that survived 500 miles. You would have drivers up a couple laps on the field who would have an issue that resulted in a DNF. There always needs to be some torn-up racecars for NASCAR to be NASCAR.

Gable: Wrecks, especially big wrecks, command the attention of fans.  They also serve as a reminder of the courage that it takes to drive a racecar.  However, you do not need crashes to have a good race.  I remember Tony Stewart’s wonderfully sarcastic interview after Talladega five years ago, during which he commented that NASCAR needed to make sure that at least 50 percent of the cars crashed in each race at the Alabama track in order to make it “perfect” for the fans.  The Big One makes for good highlight reel material, but ultimately the quality of a race comes down to competition, not crashes.

The Camping World Truck Series is back in action this weekend.  We’ve talked about the effects of the month-long hiatus on teams, but what about the series and its fans?  Do the voids hurt the CWTS overall, and is there something different that could be done to keep the series on the radar even during an extended break?

Marcheschi: The Truck Series has lost some of my focus over the last few weeks. There have been no races, and I’ve just forgotten about it. One of NASCAR’s biggest advantages is consistent events, and the Truck Series doesn’t have consistent races, especially early in the season. As a huge fan of the series (it’s my favorite of the three), it’s frustrating to not have events for several weeks at a time. I wouldn’t mind a more evenly spread out schedule of races, or a later start to the season overall for the Trucks.

Finley: The schedule desperately needs some short track races that the other two national series don’t visit in the spring months, but to fans it doesn’t make a lot of difference. Ratings for the series, although not readily available, don’t dramatically go down after the month away, and attendance doesn’t seem to take a hit either. Compared to a lot of other issues with NASCAR, this one doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention with fans on Twitter compared to, say, Cup drivers in the XFINITY Series.

Massie: I would like to see the series get back up to 25 races again. That seemed like the perfect number, and I know Timothy Peters voiced that opinion himself. If races are not added, then I would delay the second and third races a few weeks so the gaps are not quite as big. There should not be a ton of Truck races early in the season though, as those races tend to be night races and most locations the series races at are likely too cold during the February, March and April nights for fans to show up. That is of course taking into consideration that NASCAR cares about fans showing up for the lower series. Common trends show that that might not be the case.

Allaway: The breaks are so long early in the season that people that aren’t diehard fans forget the series exists, which is a serious problem.  The problem is, where do you race in the first three months of the season that can afford the series and help give it its own identity?  The solution is to have more than three races prior to May 10, or ditch Daytona and start somewhere else.

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