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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Friday Faceoff: Should NASCAR Run a Mid-Week Cup Race?

Last-lap contact from Joey Logano at Martinsville Speedway’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race left Martin Truex Jr rather unhappy. Does the fact that there was a spot in the Championship 4 on the line change the way drivers should race each other for a win?

Zach Gillispie: I sure hope not. The opportunity to win a Cup race is a rare opportunity. If you are a professional racecar driver, you have a duty to go out and win. You have an obligation to win for your sponsors, your crew and your team. To fulfill that obligation, a racecar driver has the responsibility to try and race for a win at all costs. I will leave the phrase “win at all cost” left to interpretation, but we need to reevaluate what the point of a race is supposed to be. Drivers should race for the win the same way over the course of the season, whether it is the Daytona 500 or a race in the playoffs.

Amy Henderson: No. Joey Logano put in a well-executed bump-and-run in the last corner of the last lap. That’s completely legit, playoffs or not. Contrary to Martin Truex Jr.‘s assessment, he wasn’t dumped. If Logano had dumped him, he wouldn’t have finished third; he’d have been in the wall. And Truex most certainly laid a bumper to Logano a time or two before getting inside him, so while his reaction is understandable as he’s making a bid to repeat, there are a lot of sour grapes there. In reality, Truex had no more on the line than Logano did; Logano’s also in the title hunt. And even if he weren’t, I certainly hope a driver wouldn’t stop racing for a win simply because the other guy is in the playoffs. Denny Hamlin raced Kyle Busch hard for position Sunday. He didn’t wreck him, but he didn’t let him keep his spot, either. If I were a sponsor and my driver settled for second just so a playoff driver could cruise, they wouldn’t be my driver for long.

Wesley Coburn: You’re racing for a spot in the championship; a little more aggressiveness is permissible. Besides, it was at a short track, and Truex was running into people all day long. He should’ve expected payback from someone.

Martinsville has been mentioned as a possible candidate to host a primetime midweek race. Should NASCAR consider staging a Cup race on a weeknight and if so, what would be the best track for such a race?

Coburn: Gateway Motorsports Park has mentioned that if it got a Cup race, it’d be willing to be a guinea pig for a midweek race. The Camping World Truck Series races under the lights there already and the track is in the St. Louis area, so that’s a large group of people to draw your local audience from, plus lots of hotels and other things to do for out-of-town visitors. The Blues and Cardinals are great at doing cross-sport promotions, so work something out where they’ll help promote the race, too.

Henderson: I’m torn on this one. On one hand, a midweek night race would be a lot of fun and could be a one-day show; TV would love it. But would fans from anywhere but the immediate area actually go? Fans watching on TV don’t pay the light bill for the tracks; they have to fill the stands. Racing is no longer a destination type of vacation of most, so I don’t see how attendance could support the cost for any track.

That said, if NASCAR did commit to the idea, the only tracks it could realistically consider would be Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway or Martinsville. Unless teams were going to have the weekends before AND after the race off, which would defeat a lot of the purpose, they need to be within a couple hours of home base. Bristol is roughly three hours from Charlotte, and that’s as far as would be doable and still turn over from a race the Sunday before or for a race the Sunday after. Either of the two short tracks would be a decent choice as they aren’t as bad under the lights as the bigger tracks, though a night race rarely beats a day one.

Gillispie: While all indicators suggest that a midweek race will spark a boost in television ratings, it is also important for NASCAR to determine what effect a midweek race will have on attendance. A key part of NASCAR’s success is filling the stands, which is concerning if a midweek race were to happen at a place like Martinsville or Bristol. The TV ratings at these two short tracks would be great, but the attendance might be sparse because of the population around Martinsville, Va., and Bristol, Tenn. Many race fans travel from hours away to attend races, but I don’t think very many people would want to travel eight hours round trip in a day to attend a race, especially with work or school the next day. There is a big difference in driving time on weekend and driving time on a Wednesday or Thursday.

William Byron crashed on Sunday, resulting in his ninth DNF of the season, with only three top-10 finishes. Is this just part of the process for the young rookie, or is there cause for concern in the No. 24 camp?

Gillispie: This stat surprised me; three top 10s are ridiculously low for a Hendrick Motorsports driver. I hope this is just part of the process, but there should be concern in the Hendrick camp. Some say that Byron was rushed up to the Cup Series way too fast, and we have seen the repercussions of that. In Byron’s defense, Hendrick’s performance numbers are dramatically and uncharacteristically down this year, but his stats are still far lower than his teammates. Hendrick needs to reevaluate what to do with Byron.

Henderson: Several years back, Hendrick had a young driver who, in a 30-race season, failed to finish 11 times, more than a third of the races on the schedule. Some were for engine failures (much more common back then and especially if the driver made a mistake), a few were for part failures and some were for crashes. The driver was only 21, and a lot of people questioned his ability and readiness for Cup. Hendrick decided to give that driver another year to see if he’d mature. In his second year, the youngster had 10 DNFs but also won twice. In his third year, Jeff Gordon was a Cup champion with seven wins and just 3 DNFs. You know the rest of that story; Gordon will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in January.

In other words, William Byron is very young. Was he rushed to Cup? Yes. So was Gordon. Perhaps Hendrick would have been better off putting a veteran in the seat of the No. 24 for a year, but letting Byron make mistakes and figure out his own way is the same way Hendrick has developed a few young drivers, including Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch along with Gordon. It’s a year too soon, at least, to hit the panic button.

Coburn: It’s similar to Daniel Suarez at Joe Gibbs Racing — the organization expected he would have a difficult transition but had no idea it would be this bad. While Byron definitely has the talent to be successful in Cup, based on his past experience, I’d be more worried about Chad Knaus taking over as his crew chief next season. Knaus is probably near the end of his time atop the pit box, and I wonder how much effort he’ll be able to invest in Byron’s team. If things don’t turn around into three to five top-five runs next season, it might be time to start to panic.

The XFINITY Series has seen three first-time winners in the past five races, while there have been two in Cup this year and just one in the Truck Series. Across all three tours, who do you think is most likely the next to score their first career win?

Gillispie: Daniel Hemric has been so close to a win in the XFINITY Series. At season’s end, don’t be surprised if Hemric has at least one win before he departs for the Cup Series in 2019.

Coburn: Austin Cindric in the XFINITY Series. Team Penske has great equipment, and it’s only a matter of time until he wins while driving it (though driving for Roush Fenway Racing is a different story).

Henderson: Hemric. He’s been oh-so-close to Victory Lane this year and is likely to get there in the next three weeks.

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Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

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3 comments

  1. Avatar

    I think the All-Star Race would make the perfect midweek guinea pig. Move it from Charlotte to Martinsville under the lights in mid-summer after the MLB All Star Game. The sports landscape is dead during those days. NASCAR can have the night all to themselves.

  2. Avatar

    Nascar might consider a non-points (meaning a voluntary, as opposed to mandated, race) mid-week race on a dirt track, either for cup, trucks, or Xfinity cars – I assume, maybe incorrectly, that a few dirt tracks in the Charlotte area are possible candidates. There are a lot of hurdles doing this, but it would get around the contracts with current tracks, and would satisfy the yammering by the media and by fans about their apparent need for a dirt-track race and a mid-week race.