NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: What’s Been the Biggest Surprise of 2018?

Clint Bowyer’s win at Martinsville Speedway snapped a 190-race winless streak. Who is most likely to be the next driver who has already won in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to snap his long winless drought?

Christian KoellePaul Menard is really impressing me over at Wood Brothers Racing. That car has some speed, and it seems like Menard is a good fit for the No. 21 car. Menard could pull out a victory rather soon, and he would snap the longest winless streak in NASCAR in the process.

Vito Pugliese: Given the domination thus far by Stewart-Haas Racing, Aric Almirola has to be the go-to pick, particularly with Talladega Superspeedway just around the corner. Almirola has speedway chops for sure, having taken the King’s No. 43 to Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway in 2015, and was looking at a Daytona 500 win two months ago before he got lifted going into Turn 3 on the final lap. The SHR cars have a bit of an edge thus far over the competition so far this year, and with Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer locked into the playoffs, they can start focusing on getting the Nos. 10 and 41 in as well, rather early in the season.

Matt McLaughlin: Jamie McMurray. Kyle Larson has the same equipment, and he runs up front nearly every week.

Mike Neff: The Hendrick Motorsports organization has been not only out to lunch, it has also been on extended leave of absence. The bowties are struggling with the new body in general. When the Camaro finally gets to the front for a race or two, we’ll see Jimmie Johnson snap this horrific 35-race winless streak. It will probably be over 40 by the time it is broken, but it will be snapped this season.

Kyle Busch has finished in second place three times this season. Will this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway be the weekend when he finally cashes in?

Mark HowellKyle Busch will be the driver to beat in Texas. His comments after Martinsville showed frustration and determination, and those are two traits you don’t want to encounter from the No. 18 bunch. Martin Truex Jr. and (perish the thought!) Johnson will have a good run at Texas, but look for Busch to wind up in the Winner’s Circle.

Amy Henderson: It could go either way. Yeah, I know, hedging my bet because he will either win or he won’t, but here’s the deal: Busch has been fast this year, and he’s as good a pick as anyone. He’s hungry, and that can go a long way. But Busch has a history of being his own worst enemy when he gets frustrated, and right now he’s frustrated because he’s not winning (a lot of guys would be in a better place with his 2018 record so far). It’s all in which Busch shows up this weekend — the one that can take the big ol’ Texas bull by the horns or the one that will implode.

Pugliese: It could be, but I see one of the Team Penske trio breaking through this weekend. Texas hasn’t exactly been kind to Busch in the past, and this weekend might not be any different. Or he might win. It’s not like he’s NOT going to win this year; it’s a bit overblown and a bit of a non-story in the grand scheme of things. He tends to make it a bigger story by acting like he just woke up in a bathtub full of ice and a kidney missing when he comes in second sometimes.

Clayton Caldwell: Busch is certainly a favorite heading into this weekend, but he isn’t the favorite. Give the edge to Truex, who has been the king of the 1.5-mile tracks.

As we finish up the first off weekend of the season, what has been the biggest story thus far in 2018?

Pugliese: SHR dominance and the resurgence of Ford on a grand scale. Remember last year when Brad Keselowski was saying the end was nigh until Ford was able to submit a new car model for approval to NASCAR? While many had suspected the Mustang would be the logical evolution, coupled with Ford Motor Company delaying a redesign of the Fusion, now it appears there might not be a new car after all. Ford Performance is to decide shortly whether or not to move forward with the Mustang transition or stand fast with the Fusion. It will be a decision dictated by Ford and not the teams.

Howell: SHR has been, hands down, the biggest story thus far in 2018. Harvick’s three straight wins and Bowyer’s win at Martinsville stole headlines, and even Almirola came within two turns of winning the Daytona 500 in his first ride in the No. 10. The performances from Fords out of the SHR shop have been the biggest news of the year.

Caldwell: The lack of speed the Chevrolet teams have shown this year. The manufacturer has just one driver in the top 10 in points (Kyle Larson), and Hendrick Motorsports, arguably its top team, has just one top-five finish this season. You knew there would be a learning curve, but with all the money Chevrolet threw at the new Camaro, I expected a bit of a better performance so far in 2018. We had better see some progress this weekend at Texas, or it could be a sign of another long year for the bowtie brigade.

Henderson: The one that’s going to be the biggest story long-term is the overall performance of the Chevrolets. Teams on winning streaks are part of the game, and a month from now it could just as easily be Team Penske or Joe Gibbs Racing grabbing trophies, but as I said in The Frontstretch 5 earlier this week, it’s apparent that the manufacturer that dominated the sport as recently as 2016 is really struggling. On one hand, Toyota was in the same boat at this point last year, and that turned out just fine, but to see virtually every Chevy team fighting just for top 10s is worrisome and could have repercussions for the entire year if things don’t change soon.

Texas Motor Speedway typically shows racing movies on Big Hoss, the gigantic jumbotron, at the track every night during race week. What’s the greatest racing movie of all time?

KoelleDays of Thunder, without a doubt. That movie was really the one movie, other than Driven (IndyCar movie with Sylvester Stallone), that made me want to work in the sport.

Howell: Best silent film to show:  The Speed Kings. Best NASCAR film to show:  The Last American Hero. Best racing documentary:  Senna.  Best overall racing film:  Grand Prix, although I’m not sure how it would play in Texas.

Neff: As much as the fendered fans would like to think Days of Thunder or Stroker Ace are at the top of the heap, the question is racing movie, not stock car racing movie. Many people will champion Grand Prix, and they will be very justified for that opinion. In my book, Senna is the best racing movie ever. It is a documentary and not a theatrical production, but any time that show is on TV I will watch it.

McLaughlin: Overall: LeMans with Steve McQueen. NASCAR related: Last American Hero. It certainly wasn’t Days of Blunder or Talladega Nights. Dark horse obscure pick: On the Beach. (After a nuclear war, the only people left on Earth are in Australia. Once the winds shift ,they’ll all die too. So they decide to hold a car race, with a special twist in that all the drivers realize they’ll be dead within weeks anyway.)

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Bill B

Wow, no love for the movie “Rush”. I thought that was pretty decent (although not NASCAR).

DoninAjax

Ford might be a little reluctant to change to the Pony car after seeing the Chev’s change to the Camaro.

RacingInMississauga

In order to address Nascar’s continued drop in attendance and ratings, boring races on those 1.5 mile ovals, and a general feeling that Nascar is in big trouble as a sport, one of the steps I would take to fix things would be to force teams to go with the exact body shape front to rear of the selected model. Camaros would look like Camaros; Mustangs would look like Mustangs.

The bodies, bolted onto the current generic car’s internals including safety cage, would handle and race completely differently than the cookie cutter cars used now. Hopefully this would dramatically increase competiton variables and excitment.

Stroker Ace, dated bur fun, illustrates how racing looks when stock is put back into stock car racing.

Mike

Best racing movie was “Last American Hero” which was loosely based on Junior Johnson’s life.

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