Can Christopher Bell beat the Cup regulars this weekend?
Christopher Bell will be on the hunt for his fourth straight NASCAR XFINITY Series win on Saturday, something that hasn’t been done since Sam Ard in 1983.
Bell, a Joe Gibbs Racing driver in his rookie season in the series, has won four total races this year, and will also be looking to extend his points lead on Elliott Sadler. But he’s going to have quite the challenge this week.
With the race at Watkins Glen International being one of the final chances for veteran Cup drivers to compete in the XFINITY Series this season, and being a great opportunity for some laps around the picturesque upstate New York York road course, the entry list is loaded. Six Cup drivers in total will be starting the race on Saturday.
Perhaps the most dangerous threat to Bell’s winning streak will be AJ Allmendinger, who is making his first series start since a pair of road course wins back in 2013. Joey Logano, who has two previous wins at the Glen in XFINITY competition, will also be a major factor this weekend in the Penske No. 12 Ford.
Can AJ Allmendinger win himself a playoff position?
This is it for Allmendinger.
The California driver that came up through Champ Car before deciding to switch to full-time NASCAR racing 11 years ago, now finds himself as the only true road course ringer in the series full time and in decent equipment.
In 2014, Allmendinger prevailed in an excellent duel with Marcos Ambrose for the race win at the Glen, which is still his only win at the Cup level. He was able to secure a spot into the playoffs in the first year of the “win-and-in” points system, which has a reported value of about a million dollars in exposure for sponsors.
Every year since, Allmendinger has entered Watkins Glen needing to relive the magic of that first win to make it back into the playoffs. And every year, he hasn’t been able to end the day putting that winner sticker on his car in Victory Lane.
Could this year be different? Maybe not. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are both the class of the field every week. Both are race winners there, and Busch has an average finish of fifth in the past three races at WGI.
Still, there’s a chance. In 2015, Allmendinger had a great car and dominated early after starting on the pole. But bad luck ruined his day, and he hasn’t led a lap at the circuit since. There’s still a way, but Allmendinger has had a bit of a problem in recent years of taking himself out of both this race and Sonoma. He gets angry over the radio and the crew doesn’t adjust the car to where it needs to be at to win. He’s going to need to get over that this weekend.
Will the rise of Hendrick Motorsports continue?
Two weekends now and Hendrick Motorsports seem to have figured everything out.
Sure, it hasn’t won or even been in the mix of contending for the past two wins, but all four cars have shown speed in these two races and should have a say in the matter of who makes the playoffs this next month.
Leading the charge, surprisingly, has been Alex Bowman. The young driver, who was once unceremoniously dumped from Tommy Baldwin Racing without even being given a phone call about it, just finished third at Pocono and has a comfortable lead in the race for the final playoff spot.
What’s more is that Bowman has also been given a contract extension along with primary sponsor Nationwide, impressive considering Bowman has just two top-five finishes in just over 100 starts on the Cup level.
What’s wrong with NASCAR?
Independent journalist Jeff Gluck wrote an interesting column on his website this week with some general thoughts on how NASCAR is going right now.
It’s depressing to see how far this sport has fallen in recent years. We have a journalist, here, who is so entranced in it that he’s directly funded through fans on Patreon, a bit tired of the sport in a time where nobody should be. It’s almost the playoffs! It’s the race to get in! Who’s going to win this week and get in? But it’s harder and harder to drum up support or drama when there are legitimate concerns as to where the sport is going and how it’s going to end up.
I’ve argued before in past articles that the last thing NASCAR needed to do was make more radical changes, as new fans get turned off pretty quickly if they have to figure out the new way all of this works after a year. And the sport isn’t on death’s door as a lot of people try and argue online; as long as the sports TV rights bubble doesn’t burst and the races stay above the station average for both FS1 and NBCSN, they’re not going to die tomorrow.
But with how much the audience has fallen in just five years and what the audience is made up of (the oldest, whitest audience of any sport in America not named golf) concerns me greatly. NASCAR tried to appeal to casual fans for years in new markets and is paying the price for it. A lot of hardcore fans have stopped watching because of how “it ain’t my NASCAR no more” and the sport failed to replace most of those hardcore fans with newer fans. Combine that with NASCAR failing to invest in any new stars until six of the top 10 most popular drivers in 2014 all retired in a three-year span, and it has been a recipe for disaster.
There need to be some major changes if NASCAR is going to evolve into the modern age. It might be time to actually start listening to race fans again, rather than having them only have a say in the fan vote in the All-Star Race every year.
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