Is moving the NASCAR championship races from Homestead-Miami Speedway to ISM Raceway beginning in 2020 an improvement, downgrade or lateral move?
Adam Cheek: Lateral move. I preferred the championship being at a track the series only visits once per year, but I enjoy ISM and think it’s a decent venue for the season finale. There are certainly tracks I would oppose the finale being at — superspeedways, of course, along with road courses and a few select tracks — but Phoenix is very similar to Homestead for me, a standard oval that produces some good racing, but nothing too unexpected.
Vito Pugliese: After last weekend, big step backward. Homestead has actually been a solid track the last few years, and it’s one of the few intermediates to offer the kind of racing that made them a staple of the series in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The progressive banking repave in 2003 has made for a great racing surface, with no weather issues with its location and no need for gimmicky traction devices. Why don’t we race here twice a year? Phoenix, on the other hand, has been sold in recent years as a short track (it’s not), and while the track reconfiguration has removed the blunt end of a wall facing traffic on the backstretch, it’s now had to resort to applying traction compound to help improve things. Traction compound belongs on a drag strip and that’s it — period. Giant-ass spoilers coupled with weak ass horsepower have conspired to make what once was a great track to see close racing suddenly become the Pocono Raceway of the west. If you want an end-of-season race, make it Daytona International Speedway, leave it at Homestead or go back to Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Mark Kristl: It is a lateral move. There is nothing wrong with alternating the championship races. Yes, the races at ISM this year were underwhelming, but changes to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series package can improve the on-track action. Because the championship race weekend takes place in November, the options for those races are limited. So if NASCAR wants to alternate it between a few tracks, I am OK it.
Josh Roller: It’s an improvement if A) moving the 2020 championship races to ISM establishes a pattern of rotating the championship race to different tracks each season, and B) there are proper aero changes made to ISM races this offseason. It is a lateral move if A is true and B is not. It is a downgrade if neither A nor B is true.
Justin Allgaier finally broke through to win last week in the Xfinity Series. Does he have a shot at stealing the Xfinity title from the season’s three dominant drivers?
Kristl: He has the opportunity, but he will not win. He admitted Christopher Bell was better than him at ISM. Bell made a mistake and the other two were not at the top of their game. Not all other three playoff drivers will make a mistake in the championship race. Plus, all four drivers come from different organizations. These teams will make those drivers their top priority.
Cheek: Yes. Justin Allgaier‘s a quietly consistent driver who’s a threat to win at any time. Yes, he’s had a rough season and JR Motorsports didn’t win between Daytona and last weekend, but Allgaier could take advantage and come out of nowhere to steal the title. He’s never won a championship after years in Xfinity and he’s probably hungrier than any of the final four.
Roller: Allgaier has a shot in the sense that he is a part of the Championship 4 and his team has won the past two Xfinity championships. JRM has plenty of experience in the Championship 4 (it’s had at least one driver in all three previous NXS championship races). He will need a perfect race if he is going to beat the Big 3 on Saturday. Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick will not all have issues that prohibit them from being within striking distance of the race win.
Pugliese: No. It’s such a different track than what Homestead is, he’s probably a distant fourth to the other three drivers. Then again, that’s why they run the whole race distance, and as long as he’s running and on the same lap, he’s got a shot at it.
Every Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion has won a race during their title season, but Matt Crafton could change that. Would being a winless champ dilute the achievement?
Pugliese: Eh, not really. Some people said the same thing about Matt Kenseth doing that to Cup by winning one race in a championship year, wrapping it up before the final event. The points are what the points are; races are won by slow cars on fuel mileage, and football games can be won by not scoring a touchdown but kicking a couple of field goals. It’s not a factor.
Roller: Austin Dillon won the 2013 NASCAR Xfinity championship and didn’t win a race, and I thought less of the achievement then sadly, even though Cup Series regulars won 26 of 33 races that season. A champion should be a race winner in their championship season. I understand the possibility exists that a champion may not be a race winner, especially with the playoff system. If Matt Crafton should win the championship on Friday and not win the race, I probably will think less of it.
Cheek: No. Crafton only won three races over the course of his two titles in 2013 and 2014, and he didn’t win the championship the next year when he took home six wins in 2015. He’s proven to be one of the most consistent drivers — similar to Allgaier, in a sense. He’s a veteran who knows how to outrun the young guns when he needs to. Again, wins aren’t everything, it’s how consistently good you are that matters. Crafton is the epitome of that.
Kristl: Absolutely. Each of the Championship 4 drivers should be awarded one point per victory and be eligible for stage points. Those two variations would make it harder for Crafton to win the championship. If he won using my format, it would be more rewarding.
Speaking of wins, no one has won the Cup title without winning the Homestead race since NASCAR went to the Championship 4 format. Will that trend continue, and who takes the big trophy in 2019?
Kristl: Yes, the trend will continue. These four drivers have been the best all season. Martin Truex Jr. will win the championship. He, crew chief Cole Pearn and Furniture Row Racing nearly won the championship in their final race together. With the stability at Joe Gibbs Racing, he has become a master at short tracks and road courses. Most likely Truex and Pearn have not shown all their cards. They will be thoroughly prepared for the race and win their second championship together.
Pugliese: With this group, it’s almost guaranteed. I’m torn between picking Truex and Denny Hamlin for the title. While Truex was my pick when the playoffs started, it’s Hamlin’s destiny to win this year. He’s won before at Homestead, and it would bookend a career year for him if he can win the Daytona 500 and the championship race in the same season.
Cheek: Yes. The championship round brings out the best in everyone, and the winner always emerges as the race winner and champion. All four drivers, all of whom have won at Homestead at some point, have a shot to win the race. However, we’ll see Truex, who’s been so good all year, won Homestead two years ago and nearly did last year, or Hamlin, who’s had the season of a lifetime and had the clutch moment of a lifetime last week, win the title. All four are going to run up front, and one is going to win a title. We might see a side-by-side wall-banging finish similar to Cale Gale and Kyle Busch‘s fight to the finish there in the Truck Series in 2012. However, I’m sticking with my guns; I picked Hamlin at the start of the playoffs and I’m going with him to win the title. He’s going to be as clutch as he was at ISM and take home his first career championship, and a well earned one at that.
Roller: There are a few drivers outside of the Championship 4 who might play spoiler, but the trend will continue in 2019. My original pick in September was Kevin Harvick, but I’m finding it extremely difficult to bet against Hamlin. He has the attitude that 2019 is his chance to remove himself from the best-without-a-championship conversation. He is going to be tough to beat on Sunday.
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