Does the NASCAR Cup Series schedule feature too many road courses? What is the ideal number?
Luken Glover: Yes. Road courses can present great racing, but there are a lot of times when they are uneventful races too. Sometimes they can be wreckfests, like we saw in all three series in some capacity at the Daytona International Speedway road course. NASCAR has attempted to appeal to younger fans with the addition of more road races, but some are not on board, it seems. Four road courses is the right amount. These drivers are supposed to be the best stock car racers in the country, so a variety of tracks should be thrown at them. Two road races is not enough, but seven is too many. The sport has to be careful with moving to a road course when an oval track doesn’t present good racing for a few races.
Zach Gillispie: All this talk about road courses has diminished the call for more short tracks. If there are more road courses on the schedule than short tracks, something is wrong. We also need to look at the types of tracks we are using. Let’s look at the two multi-purpose configurations: the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL and the Daytona road course. Based on this last week, it is clear that one is very stock car-friendly and one is not. But hey, as long as the right turns are replacing the traditionally boring cookie-cutter mile-and-a-halves, it really should not matter how many there are.
Daniel McFadin: Don’t forget the original number was six before Auto Club Speedway’s race moved to Daytona. Six is a completely fine number, especially since it’s following an era where there were 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks in 2019. Aside from Daytona, the Cup Series isn’t making repeat visits to any road course this season. Though Auto Club will be converted into a short track in a couple years, the likelihood of short tracks being added to the schedule anytime soon are slim. Road courses, where none are remotely like the other, are filling that void, and I’m all for it.
Zach Sturniolo: Four or five is probably the sweet spot. We have four superspeedway races per year, and while road courses aren’t exactly comparable to the unpredictability we see there, maxing out at five road course events is enough to satisfy both parties. I’m still on board with more short tracks, so if that comes at the expense of a road course or two, that’s OK – even if intermediates should be targeted first. Some patience is due to see how this year’s events shake out. These races may be super fun and might make me want more, but do we really need to run Indianapolis Motor Speedway through the infield?
Jared Haas: Due to the shift of racing, seven seems right in 2021. If there were seven road courses about 20 years go on the schedule, that would be too much. In the early ’00s, there was a push among fans to have a road course in the playoffs as the champion should have to deal with a road course. With teams trying to get in the field, there was a rise of road ringers around the ’90s. Around the mid-’10s, NASCAR teams did not need road course ringers as much as newer drivers had more experience on the road courses. Now, up-and-coming drivers have access to road courses via online racing. Having any more road courses will dilute the schedule from other types of tracks.
Mark Kristl: Six seemed to be a solid number. I do not want the Cup Series to race on the Daytona road course, especially at the expense of other quality tracks such as Auto Club, Chicagoland Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, etc.
Josh Roller: Seven road courses isn’t too many. It was originally six, and COVID-19 forced changes. Five to seven is the sweet spot for road courses. If people are that upset about too many road courses, lobby NASCAR, NBC, Goodyear and Indianapolis Motor Speedway to bring the oval back for the Cup Series. Bring a low-downforce, high-horsepower package with tires that wear, forcing drivers to decide between saving or abusing tires.
It didn’t take long for Christopher Bell to win in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment. What other Cup driver is better than his current ride enables him to show?
McFadin: Ironically, Erik Jones.
Sturniolo: Chris Buescher is always my go-to answer for this. His Xfinity Series title run in 2015, driving largely underfunded rides for Roush Fenway Racing, is supremely underrated, and he’s capable of more than a fog-shortened victory at Pocono Raceway. Buescher is a wheelman, but he’s been mired in mid-pack equipment at Front Row Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing and RFR since entering the Cup Series. If he was placed into Stewart-Haas Racing or Hendrick Motorsports cars, he could be competitive sooner than later.
Adam Cheek: Probably Tyler Reddick. Richard Childress Racing is by no means a backmarker, but that Chevrolet stable is pretty mid-pack when it comes to how the teams stack up against each other. Reddick won back-to-back titles in the Xfinity Series, but failed to make the playoffs in his debut Cup season. Granted, he was a rookie, but he had some solid runs in the No. 8, and I expect him to do the same this year. There’s also some added pressure; he graduated to the Cup Series with fellow NXS title contenders Cole Custer and Christopher Bell, and both of them have already scored their first wins. Reddick can get the most out of his equipment and should this year.
Gillispie: Michael McDowell. Two top 10s in two races including a win, all of which have come for FRM? OK, he may be certainly showing it, but he’s also in a ride that usually does not.
Glover: Reddick immediately jumps out, but I am interested to see how he does first with the new engine and an apparent reinvigorating performance from the organization in 2020. I have also always been optimistic about Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s potential. With all the bumps in the road over his Cup career so far, it can be easy to forget just how good he was in the Xfinity Series. Between 2011 and 2012, Stenhouse won eight races, recorded 35 top fives and 52 top 10s, and he won the title both seasons. His aggressive style has rubbed many the wrong way, but he is someone who, with discipline and good equipment, can find success once again. His dirt background just shows how much of a raw talent he was when he came into the sport.
Haas: Reddick. Whether in Xfinity or Cup series, Reddick overperformed in the car he was driving. Reddick’s rookie season finished five positions better than Daniel Hemric’s rookie season. He came close to winning behind Austin Dillon at Texas Motor Speedway. Even in the rookie battle, Reddick had a better average finishing position than Custer in 2020. Because Custer won a race and was in the playoffs, Reddick did not win Rookie of the Year. Reddick would be in the conversation of making the playoffs by points if he was in better equipment.
Two Xfinity Series races in, Jeremy Clements, Kyle Weatherman and Joe Graf Jr. are all in playoff positions. Will any of the underdogs make it stick? Which one?
Kristl: None of them will make it into the playoffs. This Xfinity Series field is deep. JGR, Kaulig Racing and JR Motorsports are all fielding three full-time good drivers. Austin Cindric, Ryan Sieg, Brandon Brown and Riley Herbst all made the playoffs last year. Add in drivers like Myatt Snider and a possible surprise winner like Gray Gaulding and there is no room for those three drivers.
Haas: Jeremy Clements. In 2020, Brown, an underdog, made the playoffs. Clements started the 2020 season with three DNFs in the first six races; had he not had that awful start to his 2020 season, he would be in the 2020 playoffs. Clements’ 2021 season is off to a better start, and if he can score consistent finishes, he can make it into the playoffs.
Roller: None of the above, but Sieg will make another playoff run in 2021. We’ll see how he stacks up this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his new Ford Mustang compared to his former Chevrolet Camaro. Aside from Sieg, I’m excited to see what Landon Cassill can do in the JD Motorsports with Gary Keller No. 4 Chevrolet. If he can produce a real solid run in the first three-quarters of a regular season, he may be a threat to sneak his way in, similar to what Ross Chastain did in 2018
Cheek: I doubt it. Clements would be my pick of the three, but there’s a number of other drivers who have their sights set on the top 12 that are currently outside that cutoff — AJ Allmendinger, Cassill, Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Michael Annett and Sieg among them. Four of those six were in the playoffs last year, and three of those cars are JRM entries. Cindric is already locked in, and I fully expect Harrison Burton, Hemric, Justin Haley, Brandon Jones and Jeb Burton to join him and the other six aforementioned drivers in the postseason.
Glover: I don’t see any of them making the playoffs. We have three JGR cars, three Kaulig racing cars, the Fords of Cindric and Herbst, three JRM cars and Snider at RCR. Sieg can sneak in past someone like Annett, but outside of him I don’t see anyone cracking the top 12.
McFadin: If they were in those positions at any point in the previous three years I might have said maybe. But the series is too stacked with talent in good cars in a way it hasn’t been in recent memory. Clements is the only one with a realistic shot.
This will be the first season without a Camping World Truck Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway since 1996. Was it the right venue to remove?
Sturniolo: It was worth taking the risk to swap Homestead out in favor of the Daytona International Speedway road course given the circumstances (the Cup and Xfinity series not going to Auto Club Speedway and all), but the end result was… meh. Trucks on road courses usually put on a good show, but this was not one of those times. It turned into a mess; most of it was run under caution; and it just got sloppier as the race went on, somehow. Worth the risk, but lesson learned (I hope).
Roller: Logistically, it was the right decision. Then when I looked at the calendar, it was the obvious choice. NASCAR made a good call by removing Homestead and replacing it with the road course at Daytona. It gave Truck teams the option to remain in Daytona for an extra week, compared to returning to Florida two weeks later, then immediately heading out west to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Good call, NASCAR.
Gillispie: No, no, no, no, no. The Trucks gave Homestead its first shot. Keep in mind that the Cup Series didn’t make the trek to South Florida until years later. Homestead arguably puts on the best shows of any mile-and-a-half track and now we don’t even have its original series competing there? The same series that brought Homestead to relevance? Sad.
Kristl: No. That Truck Series race at the Daytona road course was brutal. Ten cautions, three overtimes and the longest-running time of any race in series history all made it the seemingly never-ending race. At least at Homestead, there are fewer cautions and there have not been back-to-back winners in Truck history there.
Cheek: No, but I didn’t mind the trucks taking to an additional road course; I’m thoroughly looking forward to its race at Watkins Glen International later this year. The Truck race at the Daytona road course was brutal, but the racing was something different at the very least. I’ll miss Homestead, though, and probably would’ve preferred dropping a track like Texas or Kansas Speedway while keeping Homestead.