Same Old, Same Old
Look back at the standings after the sixth race of 2018 and you’ll see much of the same as we do today. In fact, nine of the top 11 drivers are exactly the same and just like last year, we’ve had four winners thus far, the Fords look very strong and fans were complaining vehemently on social media.
My point in making this comparison is to say that as much as things change they also stay the same. NASCAR’s new package was never going to be the panacea that fixed all ills, but it is also accurate to say there were multiple prognosticators who thought the racing would be significantly more exciting than what we’ve seen thus far in 2019. And even Martinsville, a track you can normally rely on to serve up an instant classic, gave us a bread and water type event under the new rules, which really isn’t a good sign.
Perhaps that will change as teams start maximizing their learnings with the new package. But the reality is, we’ll likely start to see more of what we’ve seen in 2019 to date at least in the short term. I definitely applaud NASCAR for trying something new with the package for this year, but as they have with qualifying rules, they may have to consider an in-season change, sooner rather than later. That won’t be easy, given the relentless march of races on the NASCAR calendar, but it’s something that the series likely needs if they don’t want more the same “rinse, repeat, don’t pass the leader” type racing.
Following the final stage qualifying debacle at Auto Club Speedway a couple weeks ago, NASCAR has moved quickly to make changes and update the process to ensure we don’t have another embarrassing repeat of the ACS fiasco.
“One of the things we wanted to hold true to is not to go back to single-car qualifying,” NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said. “Single-car qualifying is two things – it’s boring and it’s expensive. It also doesn’t create a good show.”
Miller is absolutely right there, that’s for certain. Single-car qualifying is akin to watching paint dry. But at the same time, if the cars don’t take the green flag in time and never even record a time for that session well, that’s much worse. Moving forward, these new rules and regulations mean we are not likely to see a repeat of what happened in Fontana. Fair play to NASCAR for making a quick and needed change, because as amusing as it was to see fans lose their collective minds on Twitter, the sort of shenanigans we saw at ACS benefits precisely no-one.
IndyCar’s Youngest Ever Winner
I’ve always liked to celebrate great racing moments in Five Points, and Sunday’s first ever win for 18-year old Colton Herta was just that. Not only for himself but also for his fledgling team Harding Steinbrenner Racing, who picked up a victory in just their second ever full-time race.
I guess it’s only downhill from here, right? I kid, I kid. Herta is the son of former open-wheel driver Bryan Herta, who also won the 2011 and 2016 Indy 500’s as a car owner, and Colton is a guy who has quite literally grown up at the race track.
“He’s been quick since he hit the track,” 2012 Series Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay said. “At first sight I wouldn’t trust that guy with my Honda Civic, but he’s very talented. This is the big league and he just won an IndyCar race.”
Now it’s true to say he was helped by a very fortunate late yellow, he would likely have finished third without it. But he took his shot on a late race restart and made it stick which takes a ton of courage and fortitude. Where he goes from here remains to be seen but on the evidence so far, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it won’t be the last time he wheels his ride to Victory Lane.
Next Up: Texas
For the seventh race of the 2019 season, we make our first visit of the season to Texas Motor Speedway. This will be the 37th Cup race at the mile-and-a-half circuit in Fort Worth, with Jeff Burton winning the inaugural event in 1997.
The driver with the most wins not named Jimmie Johnson (who has seven) is Kyle Busch with three, including the spring race last season. In the Playoff race last year, Kevin Harvick led 177 of the 334 laps on his way to his eighth and final checkered flag of the year.
As for the new 2019 package which will run again this Sunday: “It’s a work in progress,” Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said. “Right now, I’d give it an incomplete. The restarts have been just crazy, unbelievable. After the tires heat up, people find their place and it’s not as tight and racy as any of us hoped it would be… They can improve on it. I know they intend to do that.”
With the west coast swing in the books, teams will have had a few weeks to work on the new package but to expect wholesale improvements would be asking a lot with such a small data set. Here’s hoping the racing is at least a little better this Sunday.
The 2020 Schedule
By the time you read this, chances are the 2020 schedule information will have been released. Expect evolution not revolution as next year is the final year of the five-year track deals signed ahead of the 2016 season. But one change that does seem very possible is moving the site of the championship concluding race to ISM Raceway and away from Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The other big change that may happen is a doubleheader at Pocono Raceway. This is an idea I love. It’s worked in IndyCar and it could work in NASCAR. It’s this kind of a change that NASCAR needs. Now if they could throw in a midweek event that would be great. And like I say, you may already know by the time you read this column. Let me know what you think below, if so.