What do you think of having the NASCAR Cup Series regular season ending at a superspeedway?
Zach Gillispie: Superspeedways are equivalent to 2020, in a sense; both involve drama, chaos, and a whole lot of uncertainty. While the events of the current calendar year have flipped the racing world upside down, the Daytona International Speedway regular-season finale might just be the most fitting way to encapsulate this frenzied season. However, recent history has shown us that superspeedway cut-off races during the actual playoffs have ended in dizzying messes, so one just to get in the postseason could have unfathomable results. But who thought we were going to race on the Daytona road course? Or that mother nature would be the competitor to beat week in and week out? What about Kyle Busch not winning? Crazy things have happened, so a Daytona finale is just another oddity in this mad season. However, this race was on the regular schedule before the pandemic, so the upcoming event will be an all-important measuring stick for the popularity of superspeedway finales.
Mark Kristl: While it will be an exciting race, there are different strategies that could make it a messy one. For drivers with wins, it will be an opportunity to pad their playoff points total. For drivers who are in the playoffs without a win, they want a win to gain playoff points to better their odds of advancing to the next round. For Matt DiBenedetto, Jimmie Johnson and William Byron, it is a game of cat-and-mouse to score stage points and finish better than the others to make the playoffs. As for the drivers below Byron in the point standings, it is a Hail Mary – win to make the playoffs or go home with any championship hopes dashed. These varying agendas will lead to risky maneuvers, aggressive driving and likely at least two Big Ones.
Frank Velat: NASCAR loves anything that makes the outcome of a race (or championship) less predictable. So while no one will say it, that’s exactly why the 400-miler at Daytona wound up as the last race of the regular season. I don’t think it’d ever hold the championship finale on such a track, but it’s not because NASCAR don’t want to. That said, I’m not a big fan of this because an entire season of effort can be undone by one driver making a wrong move 10 cars farther up in the field.
Based on the Indianapolis 500 being run with empty grandstands, should NASCAR hold the Daytona 500 without fans if the situation hasn’t improved? Postpone?
Kristl: While it is premature to make that call, running the Daytona 500 without spectators is possible. NASCAR rescheduled several races this year, setting up many crazy weeks. Does it want to begin the 2021 season already rescheduling and making the year more hectic for teams down the road?
Velat: While it certainly takes a little something away from the pomp and prestige of a big race to not have fans present, the season opener is too big of a deal to not hold as planned. I want fans in the seats. But if it can’t be done safely, then let’s at least have a race to enjoy.
Gillispie: Empty grandstands are better than a silent track.
Corey LaJoie is leaving Go FAS Racing at the end of the year and has made no secret of his desire to drive the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48. Does he have a realistic shot?
Kristl: No. There are far more qualified and funded drivers than Corey LaJoie. He has not won in the Cup, Xfinity or Gander RV & Outdoors Truck series. He lacks a major financial backer. While he is somewhat popular, Hendrick has Chase Elliott. LaJoie wants the ride, but there are other unemployed drivers who also presumably covet that ride.
Gillispie: LaJoie is perhaps the biggest quandary of silly season. He joins a growing free agent pool that includes Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace and Clint Bowyer who do not currently have rides solidified for 2021. You have got to believe that Jones, Wallace and Bowyer have better resumes than LaJoie for the No. 48, but equipment-wise, he has continued to help GFR get better and better despite its limited resources and personnel. Rick Hendrick has the difficult job of figuring out the incongruities between LaJoie and other candidates, which is not an envious task. He has a shot, no doubt, but Jones and others have more realistic chances.
Velat: LaJoie is off his rocker if he thinks Hendrick would pass over an available Jones or potentially available Wallace or Bowyer for him. He has exactly zero NASCAR touring series trophies. Everyone loves an underdog, and DiBenedetto has come a long way in terms of a quality ride since leaving GoFas Racing at the end of 2018. But going from No. 32 to the No. 48 is a seismic leap that I don’t see anyone making, and certainly not LaJoie.
The Truck Series has been a model of parity in 2020 with no dominant drivers. Is there a clear championship front-runner(s)?
Velat: Austin Hill is the guy to beat. He has just one win but outpaces all other drivers in almost every statistical category. Plus, his skills seem to be suited for a wider range of tracks than most of his counterparts. With a couple short tracks, intermediates and a race at Talladega Superspeedway still to go, I see Hill as the clear frontrunner.
Gillispie: If you look at all of the top drivers in the series, every single one has impressed and regressed over the course of the season, except Zane Smith. Although he only has 14 races under his belt, Smith he certainly has not shown it throughout his rookie season. Proving that he is steadily getting better and better, he’s already figured out how to run up front and he’s already figured out how to win — twice. He’s second in points and still progressing. While the other scrap among themselves, Smith will be the one who comes roaring by.
Kristl: No. Smith is great lately but has two areas of concern. First, he is a rookie, so he is still prone to make mistakes. Second, his GMS Racing teammates Sheldon Creed and Brett Moffitt are also likely playoff bound. Therefore, Smith will not receive superior equipment. As for the other drivers, they all have endured weak spots this season, so there is no prohibitive favorite.