Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were two of the 13 drivers that failed post-qualifying inspection and were forced to start in the rear of the field. However, it didn’t take long for them to work their way up through the field. Should the penalty for failing post-qualifying inspection be increased?
Matt McLaughlin: Well clearly the current level of penalties haven’t gotten the teams’ attention. To have two teams (4 and 18) that have combined to win more than half of this season’s Cup races both found illegal calls the very legitimacy of the sport into question and is a black eye for NASCAR and its fans. Now, if NASCAR had told the No. 4 team ‘you’ve failed inspection twice, you’re not going to start at the rear of the field at Pocono, you’re going to start at Watkins Glen on Aug. 5 because you’re suspended for the rest of the weekend,’ my guess is there’d be a dramatic drop in the number of cars found illegal going forward.
Mark Howell: The slap-on-the-wrist that NASCAR gives to teams that fail inspections is, to me, a joke. Making cars start at the rear of the field is harsh if you’re talking about a 30-lap feature at Williams Grove or Berlin; it’s another story altogether if it’s 160 laps at Pocono. Failing inspection means nothing in the scheme of things, especially if a team gets away with one or two violations despite being busted for another. Put failing cars down two laps right from the start, and then you’ll see more by way of technical compliance.
Mike Neff: No, they lost their car chief, they lost points and had to start at the back. Aside from adopting the F1 philosophy of starting from pit road, it is enough penalty already.
Pocono Raceway hosts two Cup race weekends in a month-and-a-half span of each other. Do you think Pocono should only have one race and if so, where should its other date head?
McLaughlin: Pocono may not be what it once was (other than Bruce Springsteen albums, what is?), but it’s still an easy drive from two huge TV markets, Philly and NYC. Track management seems to be making concerted and coordinated efforts to make the entire race weekend a better experience for fans who attend. I don’t think we need another cookie-cutter track added to the schedule, and say what you will about Pocono, it certainly is unique.
Howell: If the future of NASCAR is as rosy and fan-friendly as executives suggest, I could see a Pocono Cup date being shifted to a place like Eldora. If dirt tracks are off the table, then maybe to a road course like Road America in Wisconsin, where the XFINITY Series has put on some decent shows. Pocono has upped its game of late, but one of its Cup dates has got to be a coveted piece of the schedule.
Neff: If we’re going to throw one of Pocono’s dates off of the schedule bus, then let’s do it right. Everyone loses a date who has two of them. One trip to Talladega, Daytona, Bristol, Charlotte (bye ROVAL), Las Vegas, Kansas, Richmond, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix, Dover and Michigan. That said, we need 13 tracks to take their spots. The obvious choice for the first one will be Iowa; NASCAR owns it so that is a layup. That leaves 12 tracks to add. So let’s assume we aren’t going to add any intermediates.
Therefore, of the 12 spots, we’ll give two to road courses, two to dirt tracks and eight to short tracks. The two dirt tracks to add would be obviously Eldora, and one other, either Lucas Oil Speedway, Knoxville Raceway and Williams Grove Speedway. For road courses, we could add any two of the following; Elkhart Lake, Mid-Ohio, Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and Circuit of the Americas. Short tracks will lean a little heavy in the Southeast just because the history of the sport is rooted there. Hickory, South Boston, Greenville-Pickens, Myrtle Beach, Langley, Five Flags, Irwindale, and Evergreen. It is a long answer but it is a fair response if you’re taking a race from Pocono.
All four Joe Gibbs Racing and three Hendrick Motorsports drivers finished in the top 10 at Pocono, with Jimmie Johnson running inside the top 10 until late. Should Stewart-Haas Racing be worried about JGR or HMS possibly dethroning it as the dominant team in the MENCS?
McLaughlin: Let’s see. Jimmie Johnson has two top-five results in 2018 Cup racing and a total of seven top 10 results. Kyle Busch has won six races and has 15 top 10 results to date. HMS has combined to score nine top-five results (six less than Busch alone) and hasn’t won a race this season. No, I very much doubt there are many sleepless nights among SHR execs waiting for a Hendrick driver to break loose of its leash, wrest the bone away from them and retake the spot as top dog. The SHR and JGR rivalry seems more of a battle between equals with both sides managing career-defining runs nearly every week. The only thing that would keep me awake at night is if I drew a paycheck from Reverend Joe is the possibility the new Toyota Supra could fall flat on its face as hard as the new ZL1 Camaro. My biases are well known but to me “Japanese Muscle car” sounds like “Microwavable Gourmet” or “Sensuous Clothes Drier.”
Howell: The manufacturer merry-go-round seems ideally suited for NASCAR. Finally, we have all three makes running up front and showing some strength. This kind of cross-company competition should turn heads and attract fans. My Magic 8-Ball says “Outlook Good” if such balance continues given model changes like the Ford Mustang and the Toyota Supra over the next couple of seasons.
Neff: The No. 4 was far and away the fastest car on the track Sunday. The No. 41 led laps and was top 10 after a flat tire. The No. 14 was top five in the first two stages before finishing 11th thanks to some late-race craziness. Aric Almirola was wrecked or he was right in the mix too. Absolutely not writing off the SHR brigade after one decent race for two other organizations.
This weekend, the Cup Series heads to Watkins Glen for the second of three road courses this season. With WGI being dubbed one of the wild card races in the 26-race regular season, will we see a surprise winner, or will it be business as usual and a Big Three driver wind up in Victory Lane?
Matt McLaughlin: Let’s see. Who won the two road course races last year? Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. Who won at Sonoma in June? Truex. While steadfastly refusing to use the term Big Three because it sounds so juvenile and it’s been repeated ad nausea frankly I’d be surprised if anyone else won this weekend.
Howell: I’m watching for AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch to upset the Big Three’s applecart at The Glen. The days of “road course ringers” are long gone. With all of the variables involved at a challenging place like Watkins Glen, I’m inclined to think there’s a good chance for one of these three to park their car in Victory Lane on Sunday afternoon.
Neff: First of all, there are two road courses and please stop using the term Big Three. As for the race, it would be nice to think that someone else will jump up in there and grab a win. Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin or Allmendinger could certainly snag a victory, but the simple truth is, the winningest drivers in the series are winners because their teams are good this season. Betting against them could win you some money, but in reality, you’re probably going to lose money on that bet.