(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Friday Faceoff: Which Top Driver Might Be Facing A Winless Season?

1. Once again, weather dominated the headlines this weekend. Do you think there’s anything more that NASCAR can do (tires, start times, scheduling) or is it just a case of “c’est la vie”?

John Haverlin: There’s nothing more NASCAR can do. Start times and altering the schedule would be OK, but it takes a lot (television, tracks, sponsor, etc.) for that to happen. Just to make this clear: RAIN TIRES ON AN OVAL ARE NOT AN OPTION.
Frank Velat: Last I checked, there isn’t a lot NASCAR can do to control the weather. I think in the long term, races that are plagued by bad weather year after year may need to be moved to a different time of the year. The spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway is probably at the top of that list.
Amy Henderson: NASCAR has done a lot of things right when it comes to weather in recent years — starting races earlier, but not going overboard with that, so fans can get there; having state-of-the-art track drying equipment at the ready; and doing all they can to get races run on the scheduled day, at the scheduled length. Sometimes it rains, and we just have to live with that. Rain tires are not and have never been meant to be raced on ovals, and people need to stop suggesting it — it isn’t done because it’s too dangerous, end of story. There’s only so much that can be done (rescheduling a race by more than an hour or so is a much bigger undertaking than most people realize), and NASCAR has done most, if not all, of it.
Vito Pugliese: The obvious answer is to start races earlier. It stands to reason that if it’s not raining at 1 p.m., and you don’t start the race until 2:30 p.m., you have an extra hour and a half window of racing to ensure you get either the full distance in, or enough to make it an official race. I still feel that a place like Bristol could engineer some sort of retractable awning to cover the racing surface. For those that scoff at the idea, it was once thought laughable that one could light up Charlotte Motor Speedway, let alone a 2.5-mile tri-oval like Daytona International Speedway….but it has been done. I think Bruton and Marcus Smith are up to the challenge.
Matt McLaughlin: Since way back in 1970, philosophers like John Fogerty have noted “Long as I remember, rain been coming down.” Yet none of them have ever been able to  find someone who’ll in fact stop the rain. I would note that with an earlier start time, there is a better chance of getting the race in to at least the end of the second stage to make it official, especially at a track with no lights like Michigan International Speedway or Pocono Raceway. Until then, the crowd will have to keep rushing together, trying to stay warm.

2. Michael Waltrip’s antics during his Grid Walk prior to the race Sunday included kicking at nothing and falling on a race car. Should it be addressed in some manner or is it all just harmless fun?
Haverlin: I don’t think it needs to be addressed this time because it didn’t cause any damage to the car, but that can’t happen ever again because it could cause problems. It’s harmless fun now, but a second offense would be unacceptable. Imagine if he dented the car and the handling was affected, or it failed post-race inspection? That’d be a giant headache for everyone involved.
Velat: As a professional working in the sport, that was downright embarrassing. This is the person we want speaking to millions of viewers, some of whom are almost certainly watching for the first time? Not to mention, Waltrip has been given quite a lengthy leash from more than just his television network. Not sure what I mean? Try falling on a race car the next time you’re at the track and see how fast they remove you from the premises.
McLaughlin: Waltrip needs to be shipped off to the Jeff Hammond Home for the Comedically-Retarded and Perpetually Annoying NASCAR Announcers. If he needs a ride, his brother Darrell can take him. How those two still have a job is beyond me. All I can figure is they must have pictures of the CEO of FOX in a compromising position with a barnyard animal. I was wondering if perhaps that Field Of Dreams skit they ran was meant to be some sort of hint he was on the way out even while MW swore he was never leaving. Either that, or they were talking about the catastrophic drop in attendance at races.
Pugliese: Michael Waltrip and his antics may be long in the tooth for some, but you can’t deny his enthusiasm and love of the sport. At a time when it’s one negative thing after another, with fans constantly complaining about this, that or another (if rightly so…), he’s proof that the power of positive thinking is a real thing. That being said, falling into race cars isn’t cool, but his glancing grab of a car over was less pressure than the air hitting it at 219mph entering turn one at MIS. That said, it’s time we recycle the booth talent. DW and Mikey are getting to be like some of The Price is Right models towards the end. It shouldn’t be a lifetime contract. Referencing songs and pop culture items from 40 years ago isn’t going to endear the target viewer who is needed to keep this thing rolling.

Henderson: Replace him with Bryson Byrnes, who did a credible job at Charlotte. Seriously, he’s a young kid, but I think for that segment, they could pull it off, especially if they paired him with someone like Regan Smith. Or just skip the grid walk altogether; it’s kind of superfluous anyway.

3. Four drivers have combined to win all but two races this season. At this rate, it seems likely at least one perennial contender will have a winless season. Which top driver do you think will be shut out of the win column?
Pugliese: I think there will be more than one. Denny Hamlin‘s team hasn’t been on par with Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team, or their Furniture Row Racing cousins on the No. 78. I hate to say it, but I feel Chase Elliott is going to go through another season of trying for that first win, but not quite closing the deal. Matt Kenseth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. might squeak one out at Daytona or Talladega, but those prospects are looking slim as well.
Haverlin: I’ll say Kurt Busch. Stewart-Haas Racing has been fantastic this year, but his No. 41 Ford doesn’t seem to have the same muscle as Kevin Harvick‘s or Clint Bowyer‘s cars.
Henderson: Unless something changes drastically, the best driver who doesn’t look all that close to having the cars to win is Jimmie Johnson. If his team can put a car under him that has a remote shot at a win, he can find a way to get it done, but so far that just hasn’t happened. The other name that comes to mind is Jamie McMurray — he just hasn’t found any consistency or the speed that his teammate Kyle Larson has.
Velat: The easy answer here is Johnson, but I think Hamlin should be on notice as well. For as well as Kyle Busch has performed, the rest of Joe Gibbs Racing is severely lacking, especially by their standards.
McLaughlin:  Back in 1974 four drivers — Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough — won all but five of that season’s 28 Cup points races. It happens. But if I were Jimmie Johnson and shopping for a new sponsor next year, I’d be sweating just a bit. He’s won multiple events every year since he started running Cup full time in 2002, but his average finish this year is 16th and he’s led only one race. We’re not even halfway through the season, so there’s still a chance he could win five races in a row, but having a chat with Henry Winkler about how those Reverse Mortgages work might be prudent.

4. Mark Martin’s podcast was an associate sponsor on the truck of low budget racer Jordan Anderson this week in Texas. This, after multiple current and former drivers pitched in to help Matt DiBenedetto earlier this year. Is the drivers sponsoring/monetarily assisting other drivers a good or a bad thing?

McLaughlin: Mark Martin had a tough time getting his own Cup career started after falling into the clutches of a con-man car owner. I’m sure he remembers well how hard it was just to find a way to get to the races and try to compete despite funding shortages. In addition to the financial support when a driver of the caliber of a Martin or Denny Hamlin throws his own money into funding a young driver, there’s also a psychological benefit in that other team owners are going to have a look at that young man or lady because of the experienced drivers’ endorsement.

Haverlin: It’s good for the driver, and it’s a sign of respect and camaraderie. But it’s a bad look for NASCAR. Corporations and businesses should be on the hoods of race cars and trucks, not other drivers’ names.

Velat: I feel like it cheapens the value of sponsorship. When Earthwater revealed it was the primary sponsor on BK Racing’s No. 23 in exchange for free water, it was the ultimate low for sponsor hunting teams. Earthwater later said the deal included cash as well, but it was not a good look for current and potential sponsors. I’m sure Mark paid for the arrangement, but desperation is leading some teams down a tricky path. Something isn’t always better than nothing.

Pugliese: If that’s what it takes to get real racers who are there out of desire, determination and talent, and not because of someone writing a check on their behalf, so be it. Buying rides is nothing new, but there is a vast amount of fresh talent languishing out there, simply because they don’t have an investor footing a bill for them to a race team. The economics of motorsports have always not made sense (spend a large fortune to make a small one), but it’s become precipitously absurd in the last five years or so. As Cup drivers are prevented from competing in lower-tiered series, I would hope this would subside a bit, as some drivers seem to have seats, simply to prevent more qualified participants from taking them.
Henderson: I agree with John completely on this one. It’s not a good look for the sport in that when NASCAR was healthy, sponsors were rarely lacking. On the other hand, it is good to see drivers supporting young talent when they see it and are able…it’s just not sustainable.
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Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

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One comment

  1. Avatar

    NASCAR should not start any race it does not have a reasonable chance of completing. If they need to shorten a race due to rain, the “win” should not qualify the driver for the Playoffs or any other special bonuses like the Dash For Cash or the now-defunct Winston Million. Jeff Gordon won that prize without completing the scheduled laps at Darlington.

    As for drivers paying to put other drivers in the race, that is wrong on many levels, first and foremost the integrity of the sport (such as it is). How do we know that a scumbag like DiBenedetto won’t repay the favor during the race? NASCAR should completely ban this practice.

    No driver from HMS will win a race this season. And Kyle Larson will spin out and wreck many more times than he wins. I doubt any driver under 30 will win, unless by a fluke or due to the restrictor plate joke.