Should NASCAR have stages on road course events?
Mark Howell: NASCAR should reduce stages on road courses down to two, with the break serving as a halftime of sorts when teams can service their cars for the final push to the finish. Road racing is all about managing resources (brakes, tires, fuel). Two stages might turn up the heat on teams and require them to alter their priorities.
Joy Tomlinson: Stages on road courses are alright to have. Strategy was still in play at Sonoma Raceway, as far as fuel mileage and tire wear was concerned. The only cautions were for the stage breaks; if there were no stages, there would have been no cautions. The battle between first and second was intriguing, even though it was between two teammates. Restarts are exciting, and the two were enough to keep the excitement alive in the race.
Bryan Davis Keith: Stages need to come out of road racing. Both stages of Sunday’s race were parades until four to go, when the masses not playing for stage points chose to pit. Providing guaranteed cautions in races that are inherently driven by strategy ultimately limits competition to a point we have snoozers like Sunday.
Buy or sell: Ross Chastain and Niece Motorsports as championship caliber?
Keith: They’re red hot right now — and doing it on a diversity of tracks. Having said that, when they miss the setup at some point down the road and the us vs. the world adrenaline wears off, will they be able to make up speed?
Howell: Ross Chastain is a talented driver who’s good for the sport. His reputation as the watermelon farmer feels like a throwback to the earlier days of NASCAR (like when Terry Ryan, a truck driver from Iowa, started from the pole in the 1976 Daytona 500). Niece Motorsports has the potential to be a threat for the Gander Outdoors Truck Series title as long as it doesn’t get caught with its hand in NASCAR’s cookie jar. Failing multiple post-race inspections won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Tomlinson: Heck yeah, I’ll buy that. They’ve proven that they can win races even against adversity. Chastain’s driving skills have been on display in several races (i.e., saves). The Melon Man and his team are on a mission, and they are determined and capable to reach their goal. There’s no doubt in my mind he will enter the playoffs and compete for a championship.
From the Carousel to the ROVAL, tweaking road course layouts seems to be the thing to do lately. Is it a practice worth continuing?
Tomlinson: There’s no harm in making adjustments to improve the racing on track. The Carousel hadn’t been used since 1997 at Sonoma, and NASCAR added it to help celebrate Sonoma’s history. Not sure it really added to the competition, but it was definitely interesting. The ROVAL at Charlotte Motor Speedway, on the other hand, is still a new course, and it’s OK to change the layout a bit to help create more passing zones. They should add the Boot at Watkins Glen International.
Keith: In a perfect world, they’d cycle different road courses in their entirety on and off the schedule; that’d be a better test of driver skill than figuring out the same handful over and over again. But since NASCAR will never do that,it should introduce variables into the layouts. Though now that we tried the Carousel, let’s put it back in mothballs — give me turn 4a back.
Howell: When the Romans got bored with what was going on at the Coliseum, they tweaked the shows a bit. Why stage a gladiator battle when you could flood the arena and stage a naval battle? Altering road courses is a simple way to change the schedule without all those pesky contracts. Using the Carousel again was a great idea. Next up: the Boot at Watkins Glen.
If you made the decisions for NASCAR on FOX, would you replace Darrell Waltrip in the booth next year, and if so, with whom?
Keith: Larry McReynolds seems a trendy pick given that he had a strong year in his technical role, but I’m inclined to give the nod to Regan Smith. Both McReynolds and Mike Joy are too familiar with each other; I’m worried that putting them together back in the booth will lead to too much comfort, such as what led to Waltrip being ousted. Smith is a new variable who’s done well in the pit reporter role, and given his history as a driver on both sides of the garage (JR Motorsports plus numerous underdog teams), he’ll bring a perspective that Jeff Gordon as a lifelong superteam member can’t.
Howell: I can’t help but feel like Waltrip was forced out of the booth. He’s a valuable connection to NASCAR history, and he can bring such knowledge to new fans from behind the microphone. If Dale Earnhardt Jr. can be revered for his background as an experienced driver and amateur historian, I don’t see why Waltrip can’t enjoy a few more years at Fox Sports and retire on his own terms.
Tomlinson: The only person I would want next season in the booth would be McReynolds. His knowledge and perspective from the eyes of a crew chief are exceptional and beneficial to the race coverage. I did enjoy Chad Knaus’ viewpoint when he joined FOX’s drivers-only broadcast at Talladega Superspeedway, though. If or when he ever decides to retire from his position in NASCAR, I hope he would consider contributing to the coverage in the future.