The Track Side interviews:
First up, this week, a quick word about NBC’s new “trackside” winner interviews conducted on the frontstretch immediately post-burnout. My quick take is they’re excellent, and it’s a tremendous addition to the overall broadcast. Why? Primarily because it’s a chance to see some raw emotion from the winning driver before they’ve wheeled their winning car to Victory Lane, toweled off, taking some liquid refreshment and donned the appropriate sponsor cap. And the fact that it is broadcasting all over the track public address system only adds to the fan enjoyment, which is always a good thing.
Marty Snider’s chat with Martin Truex Jr. after he won with a late-race restart at Kentucky Speedway, following a dominant performance, left no one in any doubt as to how big of a win it was for the wheel man of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevy. It felt unedited and real – particularly when Truex grabbed Snider by both shoulders and you’d imagine that this will only be more the case once we get to the playoffs.
The one downside of these new interviews is that it takes something away from the traditional Victory Lane celebrations. It doesn’t make them an afterthought in any way, shape or form, but it does scrub off some of the luster. Still, I have to commend NBC Sports for trying something new. Innovation in broadcasts is always worth trying, and you can’t help but feel this is something that will only get better as we head into the sharp end of the 2017 season.
Matt Kenseth out at JGR:
One of the big stories of the weekend was the news on Matt Kenseth’s future and the lack thereof.
“As of today, I do not have a job for next year,” Kenseth said to the assembled media at the track this past Friday. “I certainly hope to still be racing. I haven’t really worked on anything real hard. I don’t think I’ll have the option to race at JGR next year, unfortunately.”
The reciprocal move here is almost certainly Erik Jones taking over the No. 20 car, giving Joe Gibbs Racing a blend of youth and experience with veterans Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch and young guns Daniel Suarez and the aforementioned Jones. All told, it’s been a successful four and a half years (and counting) for Kenseth.
The Cambridge, Wisconsin native has solid stats for JGR, winning 14 times to go along with 48 top fives and 87 top 10s. He finished second in the 2013 championship battle, seventh in 2014, 15th in 2015 and then fifth last year. He’s teetering on the brink in terms of the playoffs this year, but there’s still time for him to secure his place with a win.
So where does Kenseth, who wants to keep racing, end up next season? Could we perhaps see him in the No. 88 car, replacing his buddy Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Or might he end up elsewhere? Either way, I would expect to see him racing in a competitive car in 2018. Where exactly that will be is, of course, the key question.
Darrell Wallace Jr.
Pending Aric Almirola’s health and return to the No. 43 car this Sunday, Darrell Wallace Jr. looks to have completed his four-race audition at the Cup level with Richard Petty Motorsports. Results wise, Wallace has finished 26th, 19th, 15th and 11th – getting better each week racing at the top echelon.
“Bubba has been great,” RPM crew chief Drew Blickensderfer noted in an interview with Motorsport.com. “He’s got speed. He drives well. He gets along with everybody on the team. The kid is competitive and when he gets out of the race car, he’s completely productive in the way he wants to treat myself and everybody on the team to try and get better.”
Those are some pretty nice words for a crew chief who’s been around the block once or twice and knows what he’s talking about. As you probably know, Wallace is also out of his XFINITY Series ride with Roush Fenway Racing due to a lack of sponsorship. But here’s really hoping that he can parlay these four races into something more meaningful, if not in 2017, then in 2018. Wallace deserves his shot and on the evidence so far, he’s shown he can compete.
Next Up: Loudon:
Next up, it’s the first of two trips to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The 1.058-mile flat oval has been on the schedule since 1993 and this will be Cup race No. 45 at the track nicknamed the Magic Mile. It will also be the last time NHMS has two races on the Cup slate. The track will lose its second date in 2018 to Las Vegas Motor Speedway and will no longer have a playoff race next year.
Kenseth and Kevin Harvick won the two races last year, so as you set your fantasy lineups for this weekend, these two veterans would be a good place to start. This is a key race given that we’ll be back at the track in late September for the second race in the first segment of the playoffs so expect some of the teams that are locked in to the post season to experiment with set ups some over the weekend. And given the comments of Cole Pearn in Victory Lane on Saturday night, don’t be surprised to see Truex go back-to-back in the win column.
In a Monday SiriusXM NASCAR Radio interview, NASCAR Senior Vice President Steve O’Donnell explained that the sport is looking at new manufacturers to join the party in 2018 and beyond.
“We are aggressively pursuing new [manufacturers],” O’Donnell said on The Morning Drive. “We want to make sure that they come in similar to how Toyota did and it’s really changed the sport. They’ve done a tremendous job and really helped the industry.”
O’Donnell also noted that it is a “tough process” with a “lot to consider” and that you can be sure works both ways. Could we see a return to NASCAR for Dodge or will it be another manufacturer altogether? Either way, watch this space because this news isn’t going to go away.