What changes will NASCAR make in 2019?
Some more NASCAR front office moves have happened this week, as NASCAR President Brent Dewar announced he is stepping down after this month. Current COO Steve Phelps will become the new president as Dewar moves on to an advisory role in the organization.
With CEO and chairman Brian France on an indefinite leave of absence and interim CEO Jim France having his plate pretty full between NASCAR, IMSA and ARCA, Phelps will be the main day-to-day decision maker for NASCAR.
What does all of this mean for the future of the sanctioning body? Well, it definitely feels like there are going to be a lot of changes going forward. With ratings continuing to skid and just five years now to right the ship before the next round of TV negotiations, radical changes could be coming, likely beginning next season.
And they shouldn’t. There’s been some pretty great racing these past few months, the young drivers the sport is banking on like Chase Elliott finally seem to be finding their way and the playoffs are exciting enough. NASCAR isn’t perfect, but this isn’t the time to change how the race is contested again or how a championship is decided. The schedule could use change, but that isn’t coming for another two years. The financial system is broken, but that has nothing to do with any kind of high-downforce, restrictor-plate aerodynamic package that NASCAR is rumored to be implementing next year. The changes that need to be made might not be the ones NASCAR is looking at making.
Will a guest driver surprise this weekend?
This weekend will mark the first XFINITY Series playoff race of the season. Elliott Sadler will be racing in his home state for what might be the final time in his career, Justin Allgaier is looking to keep his hot streak going and there are no Cup drivers in the field as per the rulebook.
There is an accomplished guest driver in the field, however. There’s been a lot of buzz about them, as they don’t race in this series very often. And their name is… Katherine Legge.
Legge is a former CART driver who has evolved into an accomplished sports car driver and winner. The 38-year-old from England has won four races in the GT Class for Michael Shank the past two seasons in Weathertech Sports Car competition and finished third in points this year.
Legge already got a taste of stock car racing this summer, as she raced in two road course races for JD Motorsports. A blown engine robbed her of a top 15 at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course, while her 14th at Road America was a great result considering the tier of equipment she was on and how little experience Legge has had in stock car racing. This week, Legge is returning with Davis to race in her very first NASCAR oval race.
Legge isn’t the only international talent who will be competing at Richmond. Alon Day, the defending Whelen Euro Series champion, will be making his first oval start on the Cup level. Day is the first Israeli-born NASCAR driver and could be the very first European/Middle Eastern talent to break into NASCAR’s top series in a big way over these next few years.
Apparently, JR Motorsports is feeling very charitable, as it has somebody I’ve never heard of in the No. 88 this weekend in the XFINITY race. Think his name is Dale something Jr.? It’s just really touching how JRM is giving a chance to this 43-year-old, and how he’s said this might be his final race.
How will Goodyear respond to Kevin Harvick’s comments?
Kevin Harvick ripped into Goodyear last week after a blown tire caused a crash that ended a strong run out of the No. 4 Ford at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“There was something wrong from the time we put the tires on,” Harvick said. “It was like Russian roulette every time you put these piece of crap tires on and try to drive around the racetrack. One time it is tight, one time it is loose, one time they are blistered. We had a great car and then you put a set of tires on it and you can’t hardly make it through the field.”
Harvick’s was one in a string of blown tires last weekend, which the tire manufacturer claimed were due to the heat effecting team’s setups and increasing the wear on the tires. Which raises the question: does Goodyear not understand that this is a track in a town that’s in the middle of a big dessert?
That being said, Goodyear is in a tough position. Everybody wants softer, grippier tires that wear out quick. But if it focuses on that, eventually one of these kinds of days happens and the company ends up looking horrible for both competitors and — more importantly — prospective customers. And if it goes the opposite direction and shows up to the racetrack with bricks, all of the drivers are going to complain about it on national television. It’s a difficult balancing act, and hopefully Las Vegas was an anomaly throughout the duration of the season.
Who can win and avoid worrying about the ROVAL next week?
This might be one of the most important playoff races in NASCAR history.
After Brad Keselowski’s win last week, there will be 15 playoff drivers in the field on Saturday night who need a win to clinch their way through to the next round of the playoffs. If they end up parking on pit road and not in Victory Lane, they’re going to have enter the inaugural Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL race on the bubble, which nobody wants to do.
Keselowski himself will be racing for even more bonus points to carry over through the next two rounds of the playoffs. Four wins in a row is a rare feat, especially in the modern era; only Jimmie Johnson has been able to do it in the past decade alone.
When looking over the past five races at Richmond Raceway, one name comes up a lot: Denny Hamlin. Hamlin only has one win in that time frame, but he’s also averaged an incredible 3.6 average finish. Although Hamlin has been arguably better in recent years at Darlington Raceway and Martinsville Speedway, Richmond remains a stronghold for the native Virginian.
Richmond is also a great racetrack for Joey Logano, who is riding a three-race top five streak at the short track. Last year, needing to win to get into the playoffs and having no speed for almost all of the second half of the regular season, Logano was able to grab second, which was just his third top five, after having won the spring race.
It’s also always hard to bet against Kyle Busch any week, but especially at Richmond. And he does have momentum; he came from two laps down to finish seventh last weekend.