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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: Can JTG Daugherty Racing Improve with Hendrick Data?

We’re hurtling towards the end of the NASCAR season, and this weekend, three champions will be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Despite what it seems to be on television, not everything in NASCAR at the moment revolves around the playoffs. There are plenty of other stories in the sport at the moment.

Obviously, the biggie is Dale Earnhardt Jr. stepping away from the No. 88 Chevrolet after Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400. You’re going to see coverage of that all weekend long from pretty much anyone you can think of.

We also have what could be the final Cup race for Matt Kenseth as well. Unlike Earnhardt, there is no reason for it other than money.  Take that out of the equation and Kenseth would be driving somewhere else in 2018. Maybe it would have been the Furniture Row No. 77 team that’s being shuttered.

Speaking of the No. 77 team, that is a very tough situation. A team having to downsize is never a good thing. It is far worse when we’re talking about Furniture Row simply because of the team being based so far outside of the hub of the industry. A number of employees that will likely be laid off in the next couple of weeks moved out to Colorado from North Carolina just to work for the team. They’re basically sunk.

In the XFINITY Series, the championship seems to be a JR Motorsports benefit as the Hendrick Motorsports-supported operation has three of the four drivers in the running. However, that isn’t the only story to look out for in Homestead.

A number of drivers are in high profile rides this weekend due to full-time Cup drivers being ineligible to race. For instance, Iowa winner Ryan Preece is driving the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing while Christopher Bell is in the No. 20. Team Penske has entered Austin Cindric and Sam Hornish Jr.  The race is likely to be wide open.

NASCAR’s future is somewhat unclear at this point.  Will money continue to squeeze veterans out of the sport?  Does the sport benefit from such a scenario?  With high Q-rating vets leaving, can the young ‘uns properly replace them with more than just butts in seats?  We’ll have to see.

Have a question for NASCAR Mailbox? Tweet me at @Critic84 or shoot me an email at PhilAllaway@gmail.com! 

Q: How will JTG Daugherty Racing’s performance be impacted by the recently-announced technical alliance with Hendrick Motorsports? – Joey Wright

For JTG Daugherty Racing, this technical alliance with Hendrick Motorsports replaces its previous alliance with Richard Childress Racing. However, the team will still use ECR Engines in 2018.

Ultimately, the move is designed around improving the cars that the team is bringing to the track each week. The team itself likely won’t look all that much different on the track. The differences will be back at the shop.

“We need to be better at simulation and measurement protocols and the Hendrick Motorsports folks are really going to help us there,” Geschickter told motorsport.com.  “Learning our own aero stuff will be important because it’s becoming a bigger part of racing.”

Geschickter’s statement is 100 percent true.  As long as on-track testing is effectively limited to only Goodyear tire tests and the random open test for new rules, the simulator is key. The alliance will help JTG get closer to where they need to be off the truck.

Overall, the additional data should only help the team. It’s unclear whether the data they already have will be able to mesh with the new data, or if the team will have to start from scratch. Starting from scratch seems more likely.

Geschickter has stated that he wants the team to do their own aero work. Dave Charpentier, a former crew chief at Dale Earnhardt Inc., is now with the team as director of engineering. This is a little different than some of the other alliances we’ve heard about in recent years. It doesn’t sound like Hendrick Motorsports is going to be providing chassis to the team or anything like that. As a result, this alliance appears to be a rather inexpensive way to gain on the rest of the pack.

On paper, this alliance should improve JTG’s fortunes. The engines have not been the problem for the team, so keeping the ECR Engines shouldn’t hurt them too much. The aerodynamic changes that the team will have behind the scenes, plus the new Camaro ZL1, might play a bigger role. My expectations would center around a small improvement for Chris Buescher and AJ Allmendinger (25th and 28th, respectively in points), maybe to around 20th in 2018.

Q: Do you think Darrell Wallace Jr. being in the [Monster Energy NASCAR Cup] Series full-time will attract more minority viewers, attendance and sponsors? – David Wesolowski

I’m hopeful that Wallace can help stem the tide. Realistically, his mere presence alone in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series won’t do all that much to increase ratings at first. Having said that, his presence wouldn’t hurt anything either.

We’ll use Tiger Woods as an example here. When Woods first turned pro and joined the PGA Tour in 1996, TV rating increases weren’t immediate. Sure, it was great to have a minority competitor out on the course, but the big pop didn’t come right away. Golf experts knew what Woods brought to the table (just like we do now with Wallace), but the general public outside of golf fans didn’t know much about the then-20-year-old out of California.

It was only once Woods came out there and started succeeding on the biggest stage that the ratings jumped. Woods won two tournaments (including the five-round Las Vegas Invitational). Woods won Rookie of the Year despite playing in only 13 of 44 tournaments, and it definitely generated some buzz.

Then came The Masters in 1997. Woods shot -18 for the tournament and won by 12 strokes over Tom Kite to win his first major. By all indications, it was an old-fashioned whuppin’ on the field. From there, both golf and Woods were off to the races.

How does Woods’ experience apply here? Wallace just being solid isn’t really going to move the needle all that much.  If his sheer presence is truly going to be an immediate booster for NASCAR, he’s going to have to win races. A bunch of them. Quickly. I don’t see that happening right away.  However, if he can show improvement throughout the course of 2018 and put himself in position to win, that will get some play.

It is very debatable whether Wallace can get to the level where he can truly move the needle with Richard Petty Motorsports. What he needs to do is out-perform his equipment. It would likely be the second full-time ride that really catapults Wallace.

NASCAR does have one advantage over the PGA Tour here. When Woods was at his peak, him being anywhere near contention going into Sunday meant big numbers on TV. At the same time, Woods skipping a tournament would often lead to a ratings slump. Wallace won’t be missing races next year, so fans will be constantly exposed to him.

Also, if Wallace can continue to cultivate his relationship with Viacom via Nickelodeon, that would really be great. The ability to expose younger viewers to his personality will definitely help grow the sport in the long term.

Ultimately, it’s a lot of pressure to put onto Wallace. However, he won’t be alone. Other drivers will have their own role to help in building the sport. Wallace’s buddy Ryan Blaney will play a role, as will Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and others.

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