1. Martin Truex Jr. has not finished better than 14th in the first four NASCAR Cup Series races. What is wrong in the No. 19 camp?
Frank Velat: Over the course of the opening four races, two crew chiefs have proved their value. One, Paul Wolfe, has done so by doing everything right. The other, Cole Pearn, has done so by doing absolutely nothing. This has all the look of the Ray Evernham/Jeff Gordon split. Martin Truex Jr. won’t fall off the face of the competitive landscape but it will take him a bit to adjust to this new normal. But I do think the team is floundering a bit without their longtime leader.
Adam Cheek: If I had to pick a culprit, it would simply be the adjustment to a new crew chief and what’s simply a bad start to the season. Most drivers go through a bad luck streak in one season or another, and Truex isn’t immune to that. I will give credit, though, since he had a heck of a run going at Phoenix Raceway until he got into the wall late in the race. We’re not far along enough to project how Truex’s 2020 season will turn out, but for the sake of seasonal momentum his team should turn this around soon.
Amy Henderson: I’m not convinced anything is really wrong. Truex has had speed, often more than his teammates, every week. Communication doesn’t seem to be an issue, though he is adjusting to a new crew chief this year. The main issue has been some really bad racing luck: from a crewman with a cramp to tangles on track, it just seems to all be happening at once. The solution: stay the course. The cars are fast, Truex is driving them as he should. This too shall pass.
2. Kyle Petty recently said that elite drivers hanging out and being friends off the track is a problem. What do you think?
Velat: Kyle Petty is probably just mad that other drivers ran him over on the track instead of in a supermarket. I don’t think it would have been detrimental if he had been fishing buddies with Dale Earnhardt or rode bikes with Ernie Irvan. Fans like to see the playful banter back and forth between their favorite drivers. There doesn’t have to be legitimate dislike for racers to be able to aggressively compete.
Henderson: Is it a huge issue? Hardly. There have always been drivers who were friends off the track. If it interferes with them doing their jobs, i.e. helping your buddy instead of your teammate or not racing your friends hard, then it’s something their car owners need to address if they feel it’s a problem. Other than that, if they’re able to race each other just like everyone else on Sunday and have a beer on Monday, more power to them. Sometimes moments remade more special because of who’s involved.
Cheek: This could go both ways. Those elite drivers will have respect for their competitors on track and might be more inclined to work together in certain situations, but it could also lead to too much leniency on the track. It’s not necessary for the best of the sport to hate each other, though, and seeing those friendships develop outside of racing makes for good content and is fun to watch.
3. The Kyle Busch bounty in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series is up for grabs this week. Will anyone collect?
Henderson: My heart says yes: Elliott and Larson (running next week) are plenty talented enough to pull it off and would take great pleasure in doing so. My head, though, says that the richest team in the series will probably have the edge.
Cheek: No. As fun as the bounty system is, I don’t see anyone outrunning Kyle Busch. The four set to challenge Rowdy for the money this weekend are Chase Elliott, John Hunter Nemechek, Brennan Poole and JJ Yeley. The driver with the best shot is Elliott, of course, and it should be a fun battle. However, with KBM’s equipment and Busch’s streak of winning his last seven Truck starts alive and well, he’ll outrun all of them; Elliott will have a great shot, but Rowdy’s dominance of the series will continue.
Velat: Yes. This reminds me of the old No Bull 5 program that Winston ran in the late ’90s. A select group of participants eligible for a significant cash bonus if one of them should win. Such a prize can elevate their game, sharpen their focus and change their strategy. Racing is always about winning, but when you dangle an extra carrot out there, someone will sell put to get it, and one of the challengers gets the better of Rowdy this weekend.