Denny Hamlin claims his new NASCAR ownership role won’t take away his focus to keep winning with Joe Gibbs Racing. Do you think that’s possible?
Luken Glover: It is going to be very hard to not be distracted at some point by owning the team. Denny Hamlin certainly has the knowledge and motivation to pull it off, but he will have to work even harder to make sure his own performance stays level. The closest example we have in the past decade is Tony Stewart and Stewart-Haas Racing. But while Stewart owned and drove for the team, Hamlin partially owns the team and drives for another. Looking at 2014-2016, Stewart struggled with SHR. Now, the factors of age, injuries and his sprint car incident certainly could have played a factor, but eventually there is a level of distraction. Hamlin will still compete for wins week in and week out, but it would not be too terribly surprising if his performance dipped a little.
Christian Koelle: Having a partner in the form of Michael Jordan for sure has to help keep the focus on your current career. In most cases, ownership is just a name, and there are people below him that’ll run the team fluently. I’d say almost a Furniture Row Racing 2.0 in that aspect. If he’s still available, I’d reach out to Joe Garone about working together, or finding someone like Garone to run the team and make it successful. My biggest concern, and I know we won’t see it in the first season, is the Hamlin/Jordan car outrunning the No. 11 or the performance bubble being so far apart like Kyle Busch Motorsports was in the Xfinity Series. That’s when the issue hits.
Zach Gillispie: It is easy to say that now, but don’t count on it down the road. This is Hamlin’s first ownership role of any kind, and look who he has around him: arguably the most talented and well-known athlete in Jordan, the most polarizing and marketable driver in Bubba Wallace and some of the most lucrative sponsors in the business, including DoorDash and Columbia Sportswear. How can you not be distracted?
Mark Kristl: Yes. Stewart won a championship while he owned SHR. The first two years of ownership will be the most difficult for Hamlin. He must decide whom to hire for the respective positions, make sure all the infrastructure is in place, etc. Then, in 2022, the Next-Gen car will debut. Hamlin will have to acquire that equipment for his team, make sure Wallace is comfortable driving it all while Hamlin’s in the No. 11. Once 2023 rolls around, the foundation should be in place for his team where Hamlin will not worry as much.
Matt Kenseth’s stint in the No. 42 has fallen well short of his potential. What went wrong?
Gillispie: Matt Kenseth is a symbol of days gone by. Unfortunately for Kenseth, the sport has moved on without him. He has been known to say on multiple occasions this season that he has failed to grasp the modern cars. While the current package remains unpopular, the rest of the field has adapted to it. It’s clear that the sun is going down on the 2003 champion.
Glover: Everything went wrong for Kenseth. First off, the No. 42 went from a young, risk-taking driver who had a dirt style to an older veteran who has a whole different style. Second, Kenseth has never driven a Camaro before. The new body came in the year Kenseth went part time with Roush Fenway Racing, and that was a Ford, of course. To add onto that, that is a completely different package than what it was when Kenseth last drove before 2020. The final factor is age. While Kenseth no doubt has the ability left in him, everyone slows down at a certain age, and that has hit Kenseth. He has had brief flashes of the Kenseth we know (Indianapolis Motor Speedway), but it has not been the season for which I’m sure he was hoping.
Kristl: Chip Ganassi Racing has had a down year; Kurt Busch won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after a caution drastically altered the field, but entering the Round of 12, Busch was at the bottom of those playoff drivers. CGR’s struggles affected Kenseth’s performance as well.
Koelle: Kenseth is a mere seat-warmer at this point. Ross Chastain had already committed to running a full season with Kaulig Racing, so the option wasn’t there for him to leave and take over Kyle Larson‘s seat this year. The lack of practice has really hurt Kenseth, as he hasn’t been in NASCAR since running the No. 6 in 2018. The time has caught up to him, and all the changes the car has faced have also put him behind the eight ball.
Should Bristol Motor Speedway be made into a dirt track for the NASCAR Cup Series race next spring?
Kristl: No. The Cup Series should never race on dirt. Dirt track races should be reserved for the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series and the ARCA Menards Series. Realistically, no dirt track is capable of hosting the Cup Series; there are a few that could host the Truck Series and ARCA. If Cup drivers want to race on dirt, let them race in the Trucks or ARCA.
Koelle: No, it’s not needed. If you are going to run dirt, you need to make it worthwhile for these cars to run dirt. A single dirt race is a huge waste of money for teams, and none of them will really put anything into it, meaning everyone involved just wasted their money. Plus, by the end of the race, the dirt is so compact that it’s just like asphalt and the racing isn’t too great. The best thing for the Bristol spring race is to move it to late May, early June. The track isn’t broken, it’s just the continuous changes we’ve done to these cars has ruined the racing. So here’s a brilliant idea, go back to what was working and leave it: track-specific packages.
Glover: Don’t fix what isn’t broke. That old saying matches perfectly with Bristol. The Bristol we have seen in 2020 is the Bristol on which we saw guys like Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt have classic battles. Drivers had to use a little nudge or two to force their way by, and the top did not come in as easily. Bristol is certainly a fan favorite and a classic battleground for the stars of the sport. If NASCAR wants a dirt track, it should stick with either Eldora or go to the Charlotte Motor Speedway dirt track.
Gillispie: No. No. No. No. No. Did I say no?
If you were a playoff driver in a must-win situation at Talladega Superspeedway, how would you approach the race? Stay in front or fall back?
Kristl: This is tough. For the drivers in a must-win situation, I would say stay in the back for at least the first two stages. However, once the final stage is about halfway complete, those drivers should charge to the front. You cannot win by following the leader.
Koelle: Stage points will be 110% key this weekend at Talladega, so no one can afford to run in the back; after all, that’s why stage racing was implemented. Boy, how the tables have turned for a few of those drivers who rode in the back that Talladega race weekend; they’ll now feel the heat Hamlin had to go through on his own in that race in 2016. This weekend’s race will more than likely start off tame but only get more action packed toward the end. No one except for Kurt Busch can ride around in the back, and even he will be looking for playoff points to use in the Round of 8.
Gillispie: All the playoff drivers need to flip through the pages of Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s guide to superspeedway racing. If you are in a must-win situation, try to lead every lap, just like Earnhardt. Running in the back rarely works for anyone. Adhering to Earnhardt’s philosophy will keep you in the mix for stage points, help you learn the draft and put you in a prime position to be able to avoid the wrecks.
Glover: Stay up front, for sure. With the Car of Tomorrow, I would say fall back, but the cars now do not get the same bump drafting momentum to go to the front in a lap or two. I look at Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at the Daytona International Speedway race in August. He needed to win that race to lock a spot in the playoffs, and everyone knows how aggressive Stenhouse can be. Instead, he kind of floated in the back and stayed out of danger until the final stage. While he was able to get up near the lead, he was not able to consistently stay up there and ultimately got involved in a wreck. If you are in a must-win situation, you must do anything necessary to go and grab the win.