Does NASCAR need to ban political/ campaign groups from sponsoring race teams?
Adam Cheek: Yes. We all have our own political leanings, for sure, but that doesn’t mean I want to be reminded of them when watching a race. While I don’t have a problem with drivers (or athletes in any sport) expressing their political views in support of whoever they might back, a car emblazoned with a candidate’s slogan, whoever it is, has a weird sort of unpleasantness and tackiness to it. I’d rather not be reminded of the chaotic, vitriolic, divisive world of politics when enjoying a sport I’ve loved since I was young.
Zach Gillispie: Yes. In this economy, teams will take money from just about anybody, including political organizations. However, politics are divisive, and with NASCAR’s push for inclusion, the two don’t mesh. For too many, politics becomes a sort of unbreakable saving grace that people are infatuated with for various reasons on every side of the aisle imaginable, and sports will never be able to cater to that. Additionally, sports provide an escape from angst, fear, distractions, division, depression, etc. Let’s strive to be better when it comes to a fun and uplifting escape for all and put our political chatter aside.
Jared Haas: No. Political groups bring in money to teams. The sponsorship is with the team, not NASCAR. There are two types of sponsorships that are banned from NASCAR: the non-family-friendly sponsors like hard liquor, old tobacco products and disturbing sponsors, and the Confederate flag, which has been banned as the sponsor way before it was banned this year at the track. While people may have strong opinions about a candidate, a vote for the candidate or register to vote scheme does violate either of those parameters. Owners have the say what they want on their car. The sponsorship should be up to the team to decide.
Texas Motor Speedway will be the halfway mark of the 2020 Cup Series season. Who has been your biggest surprise and biggest disappointment up to this point?
Gillispie: Up until a week ago, the biggest surprise was Tyler Reddick, but then Cole Custer came from nowhere to win at Kentucky Speedway. Reddick looked poised to become the first driver in the 2020 Cup rookie class to win a race. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Custer was on track to become one of the biggest disappointments after failing to show much promise until his Kentucky surprise. Thus, the fact that it was Custer who suddenly appeared turned a lot of heads. The biggest disappointment has to go to Matt Kenseth. Since getting the call to join Chip Ganassi Racing five races into the season following the release of Kyle Larson, Kenseth’s only glimmer of past glory was a runner-up finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which saw heavy attrition. Besides Indy, there has been little to speak about regarding the driver of the No. 42. Sure he has been in and out of the sport for the last several years, but the veteran has simply not gotten a handle yet on today’s cars.
Haas: The biggest surprise is Matt DiBenedetto, who has improved his average finishing position by four positions in one year. DiBenedetto helped Levine Family Racing run better in 2019, and he took the next step to improve in his first year for Wood Brothers Racing. The biggest disappointment, hands down, is none other than defending champion Kyle Busch. Since becoming the Candyman in 2008, Busch is on track to have his third-worst season at Joe Gibbs Racing, with an average finishing position better only than his 2009 and 2014 seasons. Last weekend’s race at Kentucky was a sign of concern. Busch had track position and was passed quickly by Aric Almirola for the lead with a package that favors clean air. Busch was a non-factor and ended up finishing 21st. His season has been hit-or-miss; Busch has finished in the top six in nine of his races, but besides those finishes, he only has two top 20s. Busch has fallen behind Denny Hamlin as the top dog of Joe Gibbs Racing. For Busch to be the best driver at Joe Gibbs Racing, he needs to find consistency with his cars.
Cheek: I’m torn between Reddick and Ryan Blaney for biggest surprise. Blaney’s been solid since he began in Cup competition, but he’s been in contention to win or had a car capable of winning a number of races this year. He could’ve easily won Daytona, Martinsville Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kentucky and several more races where his car was on rails. Reddick, meanwhile, was brought up to Richard Childress Racing’s Cup team and immediately took off. Joining a struggling team that parted ways with Daniel Hemric last year and is in its seventh year with Austin Dillon, Reddick showed just how well RCR equipment could do with immense talent at the wheel; he already has five top-five efforts along with 22 laps led. Not a ton for the rookie of the year contender yet, but he’s on track to be a threat for wins in the months to come. Meanwhile, the biggest disappointment is definitely the defending champion. Busch hasn’t won a single race on the heels of a five-win, title-winning 2019 season. Despite some solid runs here and there, the No. 18 team just hasn’t found its groove yet.
Will any other Cup rookies join Cole Custer as winners this season, and if so, who?
Haas: Reddick. He has five top 10s in his rookie campaign, which is tied with Christopher Bell for most top 10s among 2020 rookies. But while Bell may be tied with Reddick, Reddick has a better average finishing position. If Reddick puts himself in a situation like Custer did, he could easily go to victory lane. Reddick and RCR is one positive change away from taking the next step of being a contender for a win.
Gillispie: No. Bell has lacked speed. Reddick is prone to inconsistency despite glimpses of greatness. John Hunter Nemechek has swiftly become remarkably quiet. The likelihood of Brennan Poole or Garrett Smithley winning are extraordinarily slim. For these reasons and more, Custer’s fellow rookies have either failed to live up to expectations or are too inconsistent to be reliable. Something will need to change for another rookie to share the spoils of victory.
Cheek: Reddick can join Custer as a rookie winner in 2020. Bell is getting there, and I don’t think Nemechek gets to victory lane yet, so Reddick definitely has the best chance. He’s shown prowess behind the wheel of the No. 8 and is a huge step up for RCR, and I could see him either winning a crapshoot restrictor-plate race or even outracing the Cup veterans on a mile-and-a-half circuit. Bell could definitely win this year as well, but it doesn’t seem like that No. 95 team is just quite there yet.
What track should host the All-Star Race next year?
Cheek: I’d love for a rotating schedule of tracks to be installed for the All-Star Race, voted on by drivers or teams or some sort of determination. The Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL came to mind on Wednesday night; if the series returns to Charlotte, take to the ROVAL for some right turns as well as left. Watkins Glen International, Martinsville or staying at Bristol are also great ideas. Wednesday night’s racing at Bristol wasn’t the best, but it was far more entertaining than Charlotte’s oval, so I’ll give credit where it’s due, but a rotating schedule of tracks would be wonderful.
Gillispie: To make it interesting, it would be unique if NASCAR held a bidding/audition process to determine the venue each year similar to how the International Olympic Committee determines the host venue of the Olympics based upon petitioning cities around the globe. Let the tracks and their regional fans congregated around the venues audition and spread their cause around their region to draw attention. Then a committee decides the venue based upon the audition process. This will draw attention, excitement, regional pride and competitiveness, all of which are things NASCAR needs. As of now, all 23 venues (and maybe more) should be in the running.
Haas: Bristol should get the All-Star Race again next year. This year’s race provided a sense of urgency. Because shorter tracks rely less upon aerodynamics, drivers were using their bumpers more. The racing product at Bristol can be tweaked like with PJ1, and provide a lot more excitement. The All-Star Race is the chance for NASCAR to experiment. The one thing I would like to see is the All-Star Race closer to Charlotte since the All-Star Race has been a homecoming for the NASCAR teams.