With a Pocono Raceway doubleheader looming next year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, what should be done to ensure a more entertaining show?
Mark Howell: The best way to insure a successful Pocono doubleheader is to make sure that Cup rules have been revised to enable the cars to carry more overall speed. A gear rule like the one we saw last week kept drivers from using the gearbox as a way to maintain suitable exit speeds to allow for at least a shot at passing another car. Fans won’t pay to watch single-file, no-pass racing for an entire weekend, no matter how many concerts or driver meet-and-greets are scheduled for their entertainment. A more competitive package will generate more successful attendance.
Wesley Coburn: Pocono ROVAL ASAP, please! There’s something like three separate infield configurations already being used, so why not pick two of them if they keep racing there twice per year? The more far-fetched idea is to add a significant amount of banking in the turns.
Christian Koelle: Pocono is such a hit-or-miss track. We either have a pretty solid race or we have a boring race that doesn’t consist of anything spectacular. There isn’t much of anything that can be done to Pocono, since A) testing won’t prove anything, and B) we only have one more race weekend this season before then to make anything happen.
Amy Henderson: I’d like to see the races and stages be very different lengths, enough so that the same pit/fuel strategies wouldn’t work. Whether that’s a 400-mile race and a 450-mile race or something similar, as long as they’re different enough to produce different strategies, it should be good. I like Pocono because of the strategy involved in winning, so any way NASCAR can create more is good by me. I’d love to see the stages be different every race, period. For a 400-lap race, for example, instead of the current 100-100-200-or-so format, do 100 laps, 50 laps and 250 laps. Make the teams think outside the box.
Alex Bowman and William Byron have been carrying the Hendrick Motorsports banner of late. Which one will get to victory lane first?
Henderson: Alex Bowman, no question. He’s at that stage where he’s really, really close, and it’s only a matter of time until the and the No. 88 team put together. William Byron is capable of winning, and crew chief Chad Knaus is certainly capable, but they haven’t shown the ability to close at the end of a race yet. They’re fast, as their two poles in a row attest, but they haven’t been there at the end in position to try to run down the leader or hold off a charge from the lead yet. Byron’s still a year away from victory lane. Knaus can make the cars fast, but he can’t turn Byron into Jimmie Johnson.
Howell: While both Hendrick drivers are enjoying good seasons of late, it’ll be Byron who’ll visit victory lane first. His talent is beginning to appear more clearly, as his team seems to finally be getting their No. 24 Camaros figured out. Byron has qualifying figured out, but there’s more to winning than turning a fast lap. He needs to get a handle on how to better close out events. Once he does that, he’ll be the next HMS driver to ring the victory vell.
Koelle: Byron seems to have the qualifying speed, while Bowman seems to have the race speed. If these two could contribute more in the meetings during the week, Hendrick could be back to its qualifying and racing form that we remember all too well. I feel like either information is being hidden within teams (Chase Elliott has been lurking closer to the front) or there’s a conflict going on within the team that is resulting in something negative out on the racetrack.
Coburn: By track performance, Bowman has a slight edge, but on the other hand, it feels like Byron and Knaus are hitting their stride together now, so it’s a toss-up. They’ll both make the playoffs (because it’s far too easy), but one won’t make it past the first round.
Kyle Busch blasted his group of young drivers at Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series for their lack of performance. Do you agree with his assessment? If you were in his position, what would you to make improvements?
Coburn: I agree with what he said, but he was far too harsh in the delivery of his assessment. If you drive a KBM truck full time, you should be a championship contender. Neither driver is doing that, so as an owner he has a right to be mad. I would try to steal Anthony Alfredo away from DGR-Crosley, and if that didn’t work then maybe he could re-hire Myatt Snider from ThorSport. Or give a few Xfinity Series overachieving underdogs a partial schedule audition.
Koelle: Todd Gilliland is one that I just can’t read at all. He ran full schedules in the K&N Pro Series and has won a lot in the ARCA Menards Series, but when it comes to the truck he just can’t perform up to par. We are far beyond blaming equipment failures, and if Greg Biffle comes in and wins this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, how big of a spit in the face is that to those two? Harrison Burton needs more time in the lower series, and with the possibility of ARCA & K&N combining, it’s time to minor league some of these drivers.
Henderson: Yes and no. As an owner, of course you need your team to perform. But if your team is also tasked with developing young drivers, you have to be a bit patient. The older of the two full-time KBM drivers just turned 19. The most experienced Truck Series driver of the two has 33 races under his belt. The talent is there, but the experience in the series is still developing. Perhaps the crew chief change for Gilliland will help him find the edge he needs, especially once a full-time replacement is named. But blasting two very young kids isn’t doing them any favors. Back off just a bit, let them develop without so much pressure, and both will come around.
Howell: Kyle Busch‘s success has gone to his central operating system. He’s winning so much and so often that he’s become even more obsessed with the thrill and satisfaction of being the best. While it seems as though his drivers are doing OK overall, Busch should calm down a little and allow the talent he observed (and hired) to catch up to his win, win, win mindset.
Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick have combined to win the last five Cup races at Michigan International Speedway. Which one needs a win this weekend the most?
Coburn: Kyle Larson‘s confidence is decimated, and his heart doesn’t really seem to be in NASCAR. In the short term, a win would help him out the most. Clint Bowyer needs a win to keep his ride another year; after all, how long is Stewart-Haas Racing going to keep Cole Custer in the Xfinity Series? Chase Briscoe has sponsorship for when he’s eventually promoted, too, but that can wait for a year or two until Kevin Harvick retires.
Howell: Without a doubt, it’s Larson who needs to win at Michigan this weekend. His struggles have become the stuff of legend, especially when he flips and/or backs a car into the wall late in a race. If we think Byron has problems closing out events, that thought goes quadruple for Larson. He’s got the talent, he just needs the luck. Maybe a race sponsored by a casino will turn his season around.
Henderson: Larson. He needs to build some kind of positive momentum soon, or I fear his season will be a lost cause. Harvick has had a little bad luck too of late, but I don’t look at him and worry about whether he can pull it together like I do Larson. Bowyer has been right there the last few weeks — he’s the most consistent of this group, with seven top 10s in the last nine races. That’s what leads to wins, so he’ll be fine.
Koelle: With Ross Chastain lurking in the background, Larson is the biggest of those three whose performance isn’t up to par. Chip Ganassi likes and keeps winners, so if Larson doesn’t start winning soon, Ganassi will find a winner, whether that’s Chastain or John Hunter Nemechek.
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