Did You Notice? … Two big-name drivers have already turned down the No. 43 ride to replace an injured Aric Almirola? Carl Edwards, once highly coveted by Richard Petty Motorsports many years ago has said no, he can’t go back and run the car through Sonoma on June 25. It’s not the first time Edwards has said he’s done with driving although rumors of a 2018 return just won’t die.
Edwards declining didn’t surprise me, either. It’s a mid-level ride for a guy who came within a few laps of a championship last November. Despite previous ties with Ford, Edwards has claimed publicly he remains loyal to Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing. Even if there’s no official contract keeping him there through 2017, some sort of non-compete I don’t see the upside for him taking this ride. Being a Good Samaritan? Carl’s reputation is already intact from last November. He’s stepping down in equipment and there’s very little to gain here.
That six-week timeframe gives you an idea of how long the team feels Almirola might be out. It’s still early to diagnose a healing time for this fracture but if that’s the case, I thought Greg Biffle would be the perfect selection. Recently retired, very familiar with Ford and knows the crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer from his days at Roush Fenway Racing. Why not put a veteran in there who’s no threat to take over the full-time ride? The limited window allows you to keep momentum up and potentially contend for top-10 finishes under the right circumstances.
Alas, several reports Tuesday night claimed Biffle is not in the running for the job.
— Jerry Jordan (@JerryJordan_KTT) May 16, 2017
So who’s it going to be then? Our Joe Wolkin has a good rundown of candidates for the job, but I think, personally they should still go with a veteran. How about a guy like Sam Hornish Jr.? He worked with RPM before and won last year in XFINITY despite racing a very limited schedule. Casey Mears could also add to his merry-go-round resume of “all-time greatest NASCAR journeyman” by taking a ride with Petty.
Should Mears get the ride, that means he’d have run with the following organizations throughout his career: Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports. That’s about four more B level or higher opportunities than the rest of the NASCAR field gets during their careers.
I also wouldn’t count out Regan Smith; and of course, RPM can always try out younger talent. But for continuity’s sake, a non-threatening veteran is the way to go here.
Did You Notice? … The seventh edition of the NASCAR Next class was released today? Supposed future stars like Jeff Burton’s son, Harrison, are included along with young women like Hailie Deegan. Think of it as the sport’s Drive For Diversity mixed with a little Miss Cleo from talent scouts on who’s actually going to make it up the sport’s development ladder.
The list is still new enough that it’s fair to ask, “Are these predictions really accurate?” So let’s look at the first ever NASCAR Next class of nine drivers and find out….
Alex Bowman – Perhaps the future driver of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88? Whether that potential opportunity develops will determine Bowman’s legacy in this class. His tenure as sub last year was filled with ups and downs, although a few good breaks at Phoenix would make him the only Cup winner within this nine-driver list.
Matt DiBenedetto – Great guy. Very marketable. But to date, DiBenedetto has stalled out as the king of the sport’s smaller programs. Promising runs with BK Racing have been replaced with some good performances at Go FAS this year. But “good,” in that world means a 20th-place finish.
Dylan Kwasniewski – Had his chance in the XFINITY Series with a now-defunct team owned by Steve Turner and just didn’t get the job done. Hasn’t run a race in any of the sport’s top three divisions since 2015 and is currently without a top-five finish. It’s not looking good.
Corey Lajoie – Currently a Cup Series rookie hitting everything but the kitchen sink for BK Racing. Lajoie, to this point hasn’t gotten the opportunities he deserved but after Jimmie Johnson hooked him up for 2017 this son of an XFINITY champ has yet to deliver.
Luis Martinez Jr. – Whoops! Guess we all can’t be perfect. Hasn’t been seen or heard from in NASCAR since 2011 and only made three starts in the sport’s top three series (XFINITY with Archie St. Hilaire, the current owner of the Cup Series No. 32 team). It wasn’t meant to be; shades of John Wes Townley?
Brett Moffitt – The 2015 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year is currently running full-time in the Truck Series. Earning a top-10 Cup finish for Michael Waltrip Racing, it certainly appears there’s a path for him to rise up the ladder again.
Sergio Pena – Five career wins in the K&N East Series had him toying around with the idea of one day moving up. But he hasn’t been running full-time there and enthusiasm over Pena has seemed to die down. He ran just once in K&N last season and was seen on Twitter moonlighting in another capacity in the Truck Series.
Went over the wall for the first time today. Cool to see the other side of things buuuuut..
I'll stick to driving ?? pic.twitter.com/1lBPID1hBh
— Sergio Peña (@SergPena) April 23, 2017
Daniel Suarez – Carl Edwards’ replacement in the Cup Series this year is arguably the group’s most successful driver. Yes, Bowman earned the No. 88 ride but Suarez is the one currently racing full-time. Joe Gibbs Racing and a long-term contract have him well positioned for future success.
Darrell Wallace Jr. – Still kicking as a full-time XFINITY driver for Roush Fenway Racing although he’s never won in the sport’s second-tier division. You get the feeling time (and money) might run out after this year. But with five career Camping World Truck Series victories? There’s a decent resume of successful racing here until Wallace seemed to stall.
Overall, I’d say the experts did pretty well. You’ve got four drivers racing Cup right now, another 1-2 on the way and only 1-2 clunkers in the group. Oh, by the way the second NASCAR Next class had both Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott included.
Looks like this is one idea where NASCAR’s hit it right on the money.
Did You Notice? … The All-Star Race this year has only 16 drivers eligible? It’s a small number that ensures the field will grow to no more than 20 for Saturday night’s race. 24 drivers are contesting the Open, bringing the total number competing to 40. That’s the smallest total to show up for a NASCAR All-Star Weekend since 1986.
Back when qualifying mattered, you’d see a ton of new teams and drivers show up for the Open as a way to prepare for the next week’s Coca-Cola 600. I think the Charlotte race is currently missing that appeal. One idea I thought of I wish NASCAR would do is open the All-Star pre-race event to different manufacturers. Say Dodge is getting interested in returning to the sport. What better way to test new equipment than in an Open sprint where it’s all a big exhibition?
We saw this idea briefly, in the late 1990s when the old No. 37 car driven by John Andretti toyed with a Lincoln. Ultimately, he never wound up racing the car but the concept generated Humpy Wheeler-like publicity for a speedway that was once good at creating that type of buzz. I know this idea would still be expensive but it’s a way for someone to dip their toe inside the sport.
With owners getting older and rides getting scarce the sport really needs to find a way to attract new money. Why not do a little something to make the weekend extra special? As it is, when the smoke clears you’re claiming 50 percent of your field racing weekly are “All-Star” caliber. That’s an awfully low bar.
P.S. – I do think the format for Saturday night’s main event is going to be great. If they can’t make this All-Star Race work, well, it’s high time to move it out of Charlotte. Eliminations, strategy, different tire compounds… I don’t know what more you can ask for.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….
- The fourth stage in the Coca-Cola 600? Stupid, stupid, stupid. You just don’t change the rules in the middle of the season. Period. End of story. It’s like saying a homer counts for eight runs in baseball when you’re playing in the seventh inning. The rules were not made this way before the year began and there’s no reason to change them now. This race may be a crown jewel, the sport’s longest but there’s no way it should be worth the most points. Also consider a driver could score 30 points in the first three stages and then blow an engine. That’s good enough for seventh-place points under this system! Someone could, in theory finish 26th in the Coke 600 and wind up with more points than the winner. Insane.
- Lots, lots, lots written about Danica Patrick this week. I think people are being far too critical of her comments right after that wreck. How would you feel after getting dinged up at 200 miles an hour? Yes, Joey Logano wasted no time in expressing concern for Almirola but everyone reacts to a crash differently. Almirola also slammed into the No. 22, not Patrick’s No. 10. She may not have fully understood the hit he’d taken.
- That said… here’s what I do think. You’ve got a settlement coming in the next few weeks from Nature’s Bakery that lets her finish the season with Stewart-Haas Racing. But we haven’t seen much on sponsorship extensions for Patrick since her primary backer bailed in February. I think the next three months are crucial for her. If we’re sitting here, end of August and there’s not even a whiff of a top-10 finish I think she heads toward retirement. Boyfriend and peer Ricky Stenhouse Jr. just separated himself, scoring his first career victory while Patrick, a rookie during the same year appears to be regressing. She’s smart, there’s a lot she wants to do in life ala Edwards and there comes a point where you simply say, “Enough.” I think she’s close.
- Kansas got a 1.5 Nielsen rating on a Saturday night and it was one of the best races we’ve seen all season. Think NASCAR might want to pick a better time in the future running this race than mere hours before Mother’s Day on FOX Sports 1?