Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Joey Logano all had trouble at Dover International Speedway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Which driver’s playoff chances are trouble?
Wesley Coburn: Short term, Chase Elliott needs to win to keep his playoff hopes alive this season. Longer term, Ryan Blaney needs to have a great playoffs, since he’s under-performed compared to his teammates since joining Team Penske.
Josh Roller: Blaney. He is more than two stages’ worth of points below the cutline, and he has only two top-five finishes at superspeedways in 19 starts. Blaney will have to put together his best Talladega Superspeedway performance of his career to keep his championship hopes alive.
Frank Velat: Blaney has the most to be concerned about. Winning is about the only way to dig out of a hole, and of the playoff drivers remaining who have won before, only Clint Bowyer is riding a longer winless streak. Elliott and Joey Logano have both won at the two remaining tracks in this round, Talladega and Kansas Speedway. It might even go beyond that. After all, Blaney has the same equipment as Logano and Brad Keselowski. Those two have a combined 11 wins during Blaney’s tenure at Penske. If Austin Cindric keeps winning in the Xfinity Series, Blaney might find himself looking over his shoulder to make sure his seat is still there.
Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell have officially been announced as Cup drivers for 2020. Will Cole Custer join them, and if so, which car will he drive?
Velat: He will. Either Bowyer or Daniel Suarez will likely vacate their ride soon. If sponsorship runs out on Suarez, they’ll boot him out in an instant. Bowyer may follow David Ragan and ride the train out of town in search of a more fulfilling home life soon. If either of those happen, it will be followed by the least surprising driver announcement in NASCAR history: Cole Custer.
Coburn: Yes, piloting the No. 14 (or No. 00 if Stewart-Haas Racing does some number switching). My guess is it’ll get Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to replace him in the Xfinity Series. As far as numbers go, Suarez gets the No. 10 and Aric Almirola inherits the No. 14, getting rid of the No. 41.
Roller: Yes. Bowyer seems more confident in his return, and Suarez’s recent sponsorship comments are troubling. Gene Haas said a year ago that Custer needed to win. He is fresh off his seventh Xfinity win of the year and outraced both Kyle Busch and Logano to win at Auto Club Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway. He will inherit the No. 41 from Suarez. Maybe Gene Haas will bring back the No. 0 since StarCom Racing has the No. 00 already.
The Cup and Gander Outdoors Truck Series levels both have a superspeedway race in their playoffs while the Xfinity Series does not. Should Xfinity go to Talladega in October as well?
Roller: Teams might disagree, but yes. I would bring the Cup, Xfinity and Trucks to Talladega in the fall and leave the spring Talladega weekend to the Cup and the ARCA Menards Series — though deep down, I would prefer to see the series go somewhere unique to the Xfinity Series or its playoffs instead of tagging along with Cup for its seven playoff races.
Coburn: I want to say yes, just for symmetry’s sake, but each series needs its own identity, which includes the playoffs. So I’m not sure, but I’m hesitantly saying yes, because they’re a part of the regular season as well, so a superspeedway race should be included in the playoffs.
Velat: Absolutely. It’s only fair that if the Cup and Truck teams have to tremble with fear and apprehension over the inevitable consequences of racing at Talladega, the Xfinity Series should be subjected to the same stomach-churning dread.
Did you see a difference with the Cup cars not having restrictor plates at Talladega anymore? After 30 years of plates, what’s your verdict on the solution: better, worse or no change?
Coburn: I don’t think there’s enough of a sample size to be able to make a judgment call here just yet.
Velat: The three races that we’ve had weren’t terribly different from the races there in the past. There were still groups of cars running together, a significant number of lead changes and several field-decimating accidents. So it doesn’t appear to have changed much, but I’ll hold off making a final determination until we have a few more races in the books.
Roller: My initial thought following the spring Talladega race was that it was the best race at either Talladega or Daytona International Speedway in a few years. The July race at Daytona wasn’t bad, either. Therefore my verdict is that the racing was better.