Safety concerns have been mounting after some harrowing accidents across all forms of racing over the past couple weeks. Is there a particular area in NASCAR that needs to be further addressed?
Adam Cheek: SAFER barriers all around. Yes, NASCAR’s done a great job putting them in the most problematic areas of most tracks. However, Brad Keselowski‘s hit made me think about that corner into which he slid. If the tires weren’t there, it’s a somewhat sharply angled corner that his car would have more or less ricocheted off of, possibly back out onto the track or at least resulting in a more violent collision. His hit into the tires was bad enough, but at Indianapolis Motor Speedway specifically NASCAR should probably look into possibly changing the curvature of that corner.
Wesley Coburn: Keselowski is very thoughtful and articulate, and if he thinks there’s a problem with angles of inside walls, as his interview with NBC indicated, NASCAR should listen to him. Open wheel cars, both IndyCar and Formula 1, should at least have full bubble shield protection like Top Fuel dragsters, if not a full roll cage.
Vito Pugliese: It’s tires in general. The new package, while down significantly on horsepower, has increased peak corner speeds considerably. When tires blow out, they almost invariably let go on turn in or the center of the corner, as we saw with Landon Cassill‘s impact on Sunday. I know we’re just starting to get our brains around the package and having an improved product on the track, but this is one that still seems to be an issue. With the advent of larger wheels on the next generation car, perhaps this will be less of an issue.
Joy Tomlinson: One that I noticed last week (besides Keselowski’s incident) was that IMS doesn’t have SAFER barriers all the way around the track. If NASCAR continues to race the oval there, it should put those all around the track. One other thing I wonder is whether it could improve on the amount of carbon dioxide that gets into cars when their crush panels are knocked out. Either get a CO2 monitor in their cars or make a backup part for when it happens to prevent the gas from going in there too much.
Is Bubba Wallace’s third-place Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series finish at Indianapolis a flash in the pan or a sign of continued improvement from the No. 43 team?
Pugliese: It may be an improvement, or perhaps Richard Petty Motorsports found something that hasn’t trickled down yet from its Richard Childress Racing technology transfer teams. With the exception of Team Penske and Wood Brothers Racing – and to a greater extent more recently Leavine Family Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing – these technical alliances seem to be a pretty one-sided affair. You’d think by now some of the Penske speed secrets would have leaked over a bit more decisively to Roush Fenway Racing, which has been in a perpetual slump on all but plate tracks since about 2013. With regards to Bubba Wallace, he no doubt can drive and is a tremendous talent. Much like Matt DiBenedetto, it’s a situation of a supremely talented driver languishing in lackluster equipment, stymied by funding and foundation within the team to make the most of their ability. Not every team is as well funded and structured like JGR, Stewart-Haas Racing or Penske, and unless you’re with one of those teams right now, you’re going to look out to lunch.
Tomlinson: I would think so; Wallace did say this was his best car all year, and he proved it at the end of the race. He’s a very talented driver who did well in the All-Star Race, and if his team can keep giving him good cars, he’ll finish well. However, it is the start of the Cup Series playoffs, and 16 drivers might start becoming more aggressive to lock themselves into each round. He’ll have to avoid the problems on the track and stay patient enough to get a good finish in the end.
Coburn: Most of the contenders either wrecked out or had mechanical failures. Wallace was in the right place to capitalize on that opening, but this was a fluke. While it was nice to see the No. 43 up front for nostalgia’s sake, RPM is in no way competitive, and it’ll return to mediocrity this week.
Cheek: It’s a week-to-week basis for RPM. He had a great run, no doubt about that, and he’s a very talented driver. However, it’s a white whale in a season of struggles for the team; RPM doesn’t get the funding it used to. It continues to struggle until it attracts a huge sponsor.
How significant of an accomplishment is winning the regular season championship?
Coburn: That depends. Which side of the generational gap are you standing on as a fan? If you regularly followed NASCAR for decades before the playoffs began, it’s everything, since many don’t consider the playoffs legitimate. If your memories of pre-playoff days in Cup are hazy to nonexistent, the regular season title doesn’t matter that much.
Pugliese: It’s significant in that you’ve likely also positioned yourself best for a championship run, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s largely irrelevant. What ultimately matters is who is in position when you roll into ISM Raceway. Anything before and after that is fodder for mid-week racing shows, and the media tour for week one of the playoffs.
Cheek: It’s a big momentum boost and a showcase of how solid drivers are. It’s a good indicator of who the overall best or most consistent driver is each year and shows how good that driver was that year. Besides, if you’re going to have a defined regular season and playoffs, it makes sense to award the driver who performed the best up through the cutoff race.
Tomlinson: Well, the regular season champ does get a trophy. Also, it’s probably more significant that people realize, as whoever is leading before the playoffs more than likely have more playoff points than their competitors. Such is the case with Kyle Busch and those playoff points can help ensure that he’ll compete for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It’s certainly not as memorable, but it’s like a stepping stone for the big prize ahead.
Paul Menard raced full time in Cup for 13 years with only one win. Was he a better driver than his victory total indicates?
Cheek: Yes. Paul Menard gets a lot of hate for family money keeping him in the sport, among other things, and I’m not in a position to debate whether that’s true. On some level, he would’ve been a really solid Xfinity Series driver and a contender come championship time in that series. He has run well. Plus, he’s only had 35 DNFs in 461 Cup starts. I have no frame of reference, but that does seem low. Finally, I’ll echo what I saw someone on Twitter say: he’s a decent driver, takes care of his equipment, keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t get involved with a lot of drama. I respect that.
Tomlinson: Yeah. His Cup Series career statistics is nicem with 20 top fives and 69 top 10s (so far). Menard also did very well in the Xfinity Series; he has three wins, 43 top fives and 102 top 10s in both full- and part-time seasons. On the track he’s made some questionable moves, but all drivers make mistakes occasionally (even veteran racers). He’s not a terrible driver; heck, anyone that can drive a racecar is talented in my book.
Coburn: He had money, helping push the trend of racing with the checkbook further into the mainstream instead of talent being the sole determinant of whether a driver was hired or not. He only has two poles, 20 top fives and 69 top 10s in over 460 Cup starts, his best finish in the standings was 14th and he’s led 336 laps out of nearly 130,000 run. Those are pretty terrible statistics, which seem to speak for themselves.
Pugliese: I’d say so. He wasn’t exactly always in the best situation or with the most competitive teams. Dale Earnhardt Inc. as it was fading into irrelevancy, RCR as Kevin Harvick kicked the door open on his way out as the grandkids took over and the Wood Brothers post-Ryan Blaney. Through all of this he always was an even-keeled personality with no big on-track flare ups, no post-race wrecking nonsense or fist-fighting with a helmet on. For a driver bringing a sponsor of that caliber along, insulated from virtually anything, he could have likely dictated whatever team he went to and demanded to be focal point of the program. Such was not the case, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who has something negative to say about him. He was fortunate enough to have the support of his family and the business to realize his dreams, and he never exploited it.