1. This week, NASCAR announced a new rules package for 2019. What do you expect from it as a whole and do you feel like it was a step forward or backward?
Amy Henderson: I’m 100% willing to save judgment until we actually see how this package performs on track under race conditions. If the cars have throttle response, it should allow them to close and pass. I’d have liked to see the end of the splitter, but that’s also something that may come when the Gen 7 car happens in the next few years –we’ll see. However, I applaud NASCAR for trying something different –what they had drew a lot of complaints, so they went another route. That’s a risk and it’s commendable.
Clayton Caldwell: Not a big fan. I believe off-throttle time is the way to go, not more throttle. I’m willing to see what this package will do but I don’t have high expectations.
Michael Massie: I’m keeping an open mind with these changes. The second half of this season has had some great races, but the racing in the first half of the season sucked. Something needed to be done to help the racing on the mile-and-a-halves because passing was impossible. The most exciting thing about this move is it will open up more lanes of racing at intermediate tracks. The thing that needs to compliment this move is slower corner speeds. Having the cars go wide open all the way around will make passing difficult.
Frank Velat: I really don’t know how this is all going to play out. But this is a win for the crowd that has been clamoring for NASCAR to do something, anything. I’m very interested in a plate-free Talladega and Daytona. What kind of impact will it have on the competition remains to be seen. But I have to say it’s better that there’s some effort being given rather than having a sanctioning body just content to ride it out.
Wesley Coburn: I’m not sure what to expect. The drivers sound like they hate the 2019 package, and I’m guessing longtime fans of the sport won’t care much for it, either. Casual fans might enjoy it if it creates more pack racing. Maybe that’s something? It sounds like NASCAR is trying to make this a bridge until the Gen 7 car is ready, and the horsepower changes could bring in new manufacturers to the sport, which would be a good thing.
2. Ryan Blaney was the recipient of some good fortune in Charlotte as the two drivers ahead of him tangled on the final lap. What other past race had a winner that stands out as unbelievably lucky?
Massie: Darrell Waltrip’s win at Martinsville Speedway in the fall race in 1987 was somewhere between luck and skill. That’s where Waltrip was in third as it appeared Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte would settle it among themselves for the win. Instead, Waltrip tapped Labonte in the final corner and spun the Hall of Famer into Earnhardt. Waltrip snuck by both of them on the bottom and went on to win the race. He masterfully wrecked both guys in front of him without getting caught up in it himself.
Coburn: Brad Keselowski‘s first win in 2009 at Talladega while driving for Phoenix Racing stands out to me because of how spectacular a finish it was. But on the other hand, you have to be in position to have a chance at winning on plate tracks, which is what he did. So I think I’ll go with Chris Buescher‘s fog-shortened victory at Pocono in 2016.
Caldwell: Richmond 1986 – Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip crash late in the race after Earnhardt put his left front fender into Waltrip’s right rear bumper. The two were fighting for the lead but both crashed, blocking the track. Several of the other drivers in contention spun behind them including Geoff Bodine and Joe Ruttman among others. Through the smoke and the carnage came Kyle Petty who was running seventh before the wreck. Petty would get the victory, recording his first career Winston Cup Series victory. The racing Gods were was with Prince Kyle that afternoon.
Velat: The 2012 XFINITY Series opener at Daytona was one of the most incredible finishes I can recall. James Buescher was 11th at the white flag and still held that position as the field entered Turn 3. But then contact among the leaders ignited a massive pileup that inhaled the entire top ten without mercy. Buescher inherited the lead and scored the only win of his XFINITY Series career. It’s also the only race I know of where the winner was outside the top 10 at the white flag.
Henderson: Not a race win, but how much luckier do you get than Kurt Busch in the final race of 2004? If not for the newly-implemented playoffs, he’d not have been even close to a championship. Then he loses a wheel but makes it to pit road with little issue — had that happened at any other point on track, even just a split second sooner than it happened, his race and title hopes would have been over. You don’t get luckier than that.
3. NASCAR has stated that they intend to lengthen the XFINITY Series race on the ROVAL next year after this year’s edition finished in just over 90 minutes. Do you feel that doing so is a necessary move?
Coburn: A slightly longer distance is probably a good idea, maybe to 250 kilometers, but there’s an intrigue that comes with sprint races that longer races just don’t have. New Hampshire is interesting because the Cup drivers are only racing 300 miles. There’s a sense of urgency there. That said, most races need to be shortened by 50-100 miles each.
Henderson: I think so. Fans pay for a ticket expecting at least a couple hours of racing. The slightly shorter length was smart this time out, because nobody really knew how it would unfold or how long it would go. Now that we know, adjusting accordingly is the way to go.
Caldwell: I think adding a few more laps would add some more intrigue. I think it would give the race more opportunities for strategy and on road courses that’s important.
Velat: This is a minor league series. There’s no reason why it should be a problem if it concludes in 90 minutes. Quality should trump quantity and the race was plenty interesting as is. It really seems unnecessary to change it.
Massie: I’m not even sure that the XFINITY Series should race on the ROVAL. That race was really boring compared to the thriller the next day. Part of that could have been it was half the distance of the Cup race. Because of that, the race could never find a rhythm and you didn’t have comers and goers. So let’s try adding five to 10 laps to the race, and if that doesn’t work, then have XFINITY race somewhere else that weekend.
4. With the first round of the Cup playoffs complete, who would you say has been the biggest surprise? Which driver has most notably underperformed?
Henderson: Alex Bowman comes to mind as the overachiever — I’d have expected him to be the first to be eliminated based on his playoff inexperience and season as a whole. Underperformer, I’ll have to go with Denny Hamlin. He’s his own worst enemy in the playoffs year in and year out. He had the opportunity to right the ship after a poor showing in Las Vegas, but instead only compounded it at Richmond and Charlotte. He has the best equipment in the garage and the talent to race for a title, but he has never handled the pressure well.
Velat: Biggest surprise for me is not one particular driver but rather an entire team. After the opening round of the playoffs, Stewart-Haas Racing comprises one-third of the remaining contenders. The entire team just keeps elevating their performance and all appear capable of winning. I’m disappointed in Erik Jones. Jones had the hot hand late in the summer, scoring his first win and rattling off several good finishes. While I didn’t expect him to win the title, I didn’t envision that team falling flat on their face either.
Coburn: I was really surprised that Kyle Larson came so close to being eliminated. As far as biggest playoff disappointment so far, I thought Erik Jones would do better than he ran, given the rate of progress he’s had this season, especially closing out the regular season.
Massie: Aric Almirola surprised me when he overcame adversity at Charlotte to advance to the Round of 12. I’ve known Almirola is a good driver, but I always thought he lacked the aggression to become an elite driver. He proved me wrong on Sunday. He started the final run at the tail of the field after getting involved in the last wreck with six to go. Instead of letting that eliminate him, he powered through the field to get enough points to advance. The biggest disappointment is Jimmie Johnson. How many times have we seen Johnson struggle through the regular season and limp into the playoffs only to take off and win a bunch in the final 10 races. We kept waiting for that magical moment from Johnson, and it almost happened at Charlotte, but it never happened this year.
Caldwell: Well I think the biggest surprise so far has been Alex Bowman. Just a year ago, with virtually the same team, Dale Earnhard Jr finished 22nd in the points. Bowman doesn’t have the hype but he’s certainly been solid. Especially when you consider that their backs are against the wall with the Camaro.
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