NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

4 Burning Questions: Where’s the Variety in Cup?

Who could take the checkered flag at Kentucky?

Kentucky Speedway is the newest track on the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series schedule, and though Speedway Motorsports Inc. is the listed owner, in reality Kyle Busch has owned this track since day one.

Busch has won there twice, including the inaugural race, and his lone finish outside of the top 10 was a 12th back in 2016. He’s already led 549 laps in just seven races, and his average finish of 5.1 is pretty insane.

Busch, along with Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick, have completed every lap ever competed in Cup at Kentucky. Truex is the defending race winner and while Harvick hasn’t even gotten a top 5 finish yet here, he does have five top 10s and an average finish of 10th.

Matt Kenseth will be in the No. 6 this weekend, returning to a track that he has enjoyed great success at. He won the race in 2013 and has an average finish of 6.9. But with how noncompetitive the No. 6 has been this season, don’t expect Kenseth to mount a challenge on Saturday night.

Will there be more variety in the second half of this season?

Look above at the last question. Notice how the favorites have been the same for just about the entire year, regardless of the track?

Last week, International Speedway Corp. claimed in an investor call that one of the reasons why attendence is down is because young drivers are not winning races.

NASCAR does not have a problem with young talent being unable to win. The problem is that not enough different talents are able to win in general.

One of the more exciting moments of the season came at Daytona this past weekend, when Jimmie Johnson took the lead and the fans reportedly “went wild” at the track. Johnson is one of the most accomplished drivers of all time, but because he hasn’t won in a year-and-a-half, while also entering Daytona with just three laps led the entire season, it was a genuine moment. There was a lot more fan fare there then whenever Kyle Busch took the lead in the very same race, even though according to ISC, the opposite should have happened and fans should have cheered loudly for the younger Busch.

If the three plate races are ignored, there have been just four different winners this season. As much as people try to argue that “today’s racing is so much more competitive than years ago,” the reality is that today isn’t nearly as competitive as the early 2000s.

Case in point: by this point in 2002, over 15 years ago mind, there were 13 different race winners. 13 in 18 races! Even taking away the three that just won at the two Daytona races and Talladega, that’s still over double the number of this season.

Nobody wants to see the same people race for the win every single week, unless it’s a huge on-track feud with fights on pit road every month. It’s why 2011 was such a great year, because after five years of the Jimmie Johnson era there were new drivers in Victory Lane (Trevor Bayne, Reagan Smith), young drivers starting to come to form (Brad Keselowski), and an excellent championship battle that didn’t involve Johnson for the first time in forever.  Seven years later, and a win by Johnson would be one of the highlights of the season.

What will NASCAR do about the yellow line rule?

Last week’s XFINITY Series race at Daytona ended in a controversial disqualification that allowed Kyle Larson to get his first win at the World Center of Racing.

Truck Series driver Justin Haley passed both Larson and runner-up Elliott Sadler right before entering the tri-oval on the last lap. But Haley dipped below the yellow line while rocketing past the two, and NASCAR penalized him and ultimately scored him at 18th, the last car on the lead lap. There was outcry from fans, journalists, even fellow drivers on Twitter following the race.

At this point, NASCAR has three viable options in the aftermath of this. One is to simply ignore it and make no change to the rule. This could hurt credibility, however, as their enforcement of this particular rule has been very inconsistent since creating it in reaction to the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. Of course, Earnhardt’s death had nothing to do with cars diving under the yellow line to begin with, but the sanctioning body had to do something  after that day.

Another is to apply a band-aid on the problem and simply rule that the yellow line rule isn’t enforced on the last lap. This would eliminate the vast majority of the controversy surrounding this rule, but it would make enforcing the race inconsistent and may confuse the fan base.

Finally, there’s a simple change that would be easy to implement and should make everybody happy- move the yellow line on the straight a ways to the grass (including the tri-oval), then have it angle back to its current position in the turns. There’s nothing dangerous with a driver using the apron to slingshot past somebody on straights, it’s them still being there once the field gets to a turn. Under this, it would open up even more avenues for passing at these tracks, while at the same time keeping the spirit of the rule in place.

What will the race at the Charlotte Roval look like?

This week, a sizable amount of Cup drivers participated in a test on Tuesday at the new Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval”. The results have been… mixed, to say the least.

It began with NASCAR having to make a change to the backstretch chicane to prevent drivers from cutting part of the turn, which is always a great way to show that the track designers really thought this one through.

There seems to still be two general problems with the course. One is that Turn 1 is extremely hard and will take the title of “hardest turn in NASCAR” away from Turn 11 at Sonoma if there are no alterations to it. Darrell Wallace Jr. was the first victim of this turn, totaling his test car early in the morning session and having to go home because of it.

The other is that the track is too narrow and it’s hard to pass. It seems like a lot of the race, like at Sonoma, will come down to pit road.

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About Michael Finley

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Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

3 comments

  1. Avatar

    The problem with moving the yellow line on the straight is the length of the packs of drafting cars. It isn’t about the line in any case. It’s about getting below the pack of drafting cars and not being able to get back into the pack before it reaches the turn and is on the bottom of the banking. At that point you are on flat track and turning sharply at 200mph. You cannot, of course, and it throws you up into the draft of cars that are where they should be, minding their own business.

    I’ve seen it happen more than once before the rule was instigated. Someone tries to make an inside pass on front or back straight and doesn’t get all the way past before the turn, the draft of cars goes down to the bottom of the banking and the car trying to pass on the inside gets thrown up into the draft he has failed to get by, taking out the entire file of cars. Leave the rule alone. It is there for a very good reason.

  2. Avatar

    Question one: When did Kyle Busch lead at Daytona? I must have dozed off when that happened.

    Question two: When will Tom Bowles hire someone with an opinion different from his own to give FS some “variety” in viewpoints?

    Question three: When has Jimmie Johnson ever been popular?

    Question four: Why do FS contributors write the same column over and over and over again? Is it pure laziness, lack of imagination or just lack of intellect?

    • Avatar

      Note that JJ and Kyle Busch have both finished in the Top Ten of MPD voting in every year of their respective careers, although neither will ever finish first in the hearts and minds of the fans.