Will restrictor plates work at Indianapolis?
The XFINITY Series race at Indianapolis has been a sore point for the series for a few seasons now. Boring racing and bad crowds have made the race largely a dud since the controversial decision to move the race from Lucas Oil Raceway. Last year’s twist with making it a Dash 4 Cash race with heat races didn’t really seem to change much; Kyle Busch led every lap of his 20-lap heat then led all but one lap of the 63-lap feature.
NASCAR announced in March that the XFINITY Series will have a different aero package and have restrictor plates mounted on the engines. NASCAR’s hope is to have the race play out like the standard restrictor plate race seen at tracks such at Daytona and Talladega; tight packs of cars with nobody lifting their foot from the gas pedal.
It’s always a huge risk to race with restrictor plates outside of Daytona and Talladega, due to the amount of horsepower cut to the engine by doing so. The only time it has ever happened in the modern era was New Hampshire in 2000, where Jeff Burton led every lap to win a race where no driver could gain enough speed on the straights to complete a pass on Burton.
It will be interesting to watch if this new aero package will be the key to great racing at Indianapolis, a place that the sport has taken a large interest in improving the racing at in recent years. If it works out, it wouldn’t be a surprise to anybody if this same combination of aero and restrictor plate changes are used over on the Cup Series side for this race in 2018 and beyond.
When (Or will) Kyle Busch win this season?
Kyle Busch enters Indianapolis needing a win. The 32-year-old driver hasn’t won a race since last year’s race at the Brickyard after having won nine of his last 41 starts before last year’s race. If Busch does win this weekend, he would become one of only two drivers in the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway to win a major event for three straight years, along with Formula One’s Michael Schumacher.
The weird thing about Busch’s season so far is that it hasn’t been a terrible one for the 2015 champion; he sits third in points and has won five stages. But he just hasn’t been able to win a race so far this season. This had been the case for all four of JGR’s drivers until last week, when Denny Hamlin finally got the organization’s first win of 2017 at New Hampshire. On top of that, some of Busch’s best racetracks are coming up over the next couple of months in addition to Indianapolis, including Bristol, Watkins Glen, Richmond, and even Pocono (which Busch almost won at the track’s first race of the season last month).
Busch and his team need to keep their tempers cold in the summer heat if they want to win before the playoffs. In New Hampshire last weekend, Busch won the second stage of the race and seemed to be in good shape to compete for a win. But a slow stop on pit road and two speeding penalties doomed the No. 18 to finishing outside of the top ten in 12th. More mistakes would be just about the last thing this team needs in the second half of the season.
Where will Matt Kenseth end up?
With the No. 88 Chevrolet no longer being an option for Matt Kenseth, the list of possibilities for the 2003 champion is starting to dwindle for next season. There’s still a chance for Kenseth to race the No. 5 next season for Hendrick Motorsports, but that ride may not even be open; Hendrick still technically has a contract for the underperforming Kasey Kahne next season.
The No. 10 Ford may be open with Danica Patrick’s possible departure, but that move in particular would probably need a big sponsor to replace Patrick’s. Kenseth could be a dark horse candidate to join up with the Wood Brothers in the No. 21 if Ryan Blaney moves over to a third Team Penske car next season.
The No. 77 is still open for Kenseth if he wishes to still race under the Toyota banner, but that may have already had been announced if said move were happening due to Furniture Row Racing’s close relationship to Joe Gibbs Racing. All that’s known for sure right now is that wherever he’s going, Kenseth may be the one to break the news first. He announced he wasn’t returning to Gibbs before anybody could do it for him, then just a couple of days ago said that he wasn’t going to be able to drive the No. 88.
How many different race winners will there be this season?
The question of how many different race winners there will be this season won’t be answered for certain until the checkered flag flies at Homestead, but one thing is for sure: the list will be fairly long.
There have been 12 different race winners in the first 19 events of the Cup Series this season, and 11 of those are currently eligible to be in the playoffs, as Joey Logano’s win at Richmond was encumbered and isn’t able to be used to make the playoffs, leaving the Team Penske driver and perennial championship contender currently 52 points out of a spot in the playoffs.
This could become very interesting very quickly, especially considering there are names such as Logano, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, and Clint Bowyer not among those 11 playoff drivers. Another element to this is that one of the last seven races before the playoffs is Watkins Glen, meaning a win by A.J. Allmendinger is still very much on the table.
Pocono and Michigan are also home to a fair amount of fuel millage races or, in Pocono’s case, rain shortages. Just last season, Chris Buescher shocked the world by winning at Pocono in a rain shortened race and ended up making the playoffs with Front Row Motorsports.
In order for no drivers to make the playoffs on points, there must by five different winners among drivers who haven’t won yet in the next seven races and that the points leader after Richmond has a race win. In order for winning drivers to start to be knocked off from playoff spots, there must be either six or seven different winners in the next seven races. Both possibilities have low chances of becoming true, but it speaks to just how much parity there is in NASCAR this question is even being brought up at all.