Which new driver/crew chief combo will win next in the NASCAR Cup Series after four of them have won in the first five races?
Josh Roller: The way Kyle Busch and the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 team is finishing, it’s a toss-up between Busch-Ben Beshore and Bubba Wallace-Mike Wheeler at 23XI Racing. But it will likely be Busch and Beshore.
Bryan Gable: The low-hanging fruit here is Busch and Ben Beshore. Certainly the No. 18 team has not performed up to anyone’s expectations so far, but Busch is not to be underestimated. Even with a new crew chief, he has the capacity to score a win at any time. Busch and Beshore just need to make sure they are in a position to compete for wins as these races are winding down. Once they do, expect the No. 18 to roll into victory lane pretty quickly.
Zach Sturniolo: Busch is the super easy answer with his new crew chief Ben Beshore atop the box. They almost won together at Pocono Raceway in 2017 if not for a pit call that left Busch on old tires while Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney rushed past him. But Busch is too easy of an answer, right? Here’s one out of left field: Chase Briscoe and Johnny Klausmeier. Briscoe has had lots of recent success in the Camping World Truck Series’ endeavors at Eldora Speedway, winning in 2018 and adding finishes of third (2017) and seventh (2019) along the way. Maybe he’ll be the next to squeak out a surprise win.
Jared Haas: Busch. He had a rough weekend at Phoenix Raceway, but he has some good runs this season. Busch improved his finish from 2020 to 2021 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. If Busch can get any luck, he will return to victory lane in 2021. JGR has a strong-enough team to put all four of its Cup cars in victory lane.
Several teams in both the Camping World Truck and Cup series have put dirt aces in their cars for the upcoming Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race. Would you like to see more teams do the same, and if so, who should get the call?
Gable: Is Tony Stewart still considered a dirt ace? I would love to see him run the Truck race. Can you image Stewart, racing a truck for the first time in 16 years, in a one-off appearance with absolutely nothing to lose, kicking up the dirt on the banks of Bristol? He would add a huge element of excitement and star power to the field.
Sturniolo: It’d be great to see more dirt names in either field, and I’m surprised I haven’t seen anything about David Gravel jumping into a Truck ride to give it a whirl. Yes, the World of Outlaws regular only has two Truck starts total, both of which came last year with GMS Racing, but what better situation to see him behind the wheel in one of NASCAR’s national series than this? I’m confident that if he can finish 10th at Michigan International Speedway as he did in August 2020, the 2019 Knoxville Nationals winner could better that on the dirty high banks at Bristol.
Haas: There should be more dirt ringers. The competition level increases when you have different levels of expertise with the car or track. Two drivers I would like to see are Kenny Wallace and Ken Schrader. Wallace and Schrader raced in a different generation of NASCAR. With their knowledge of dirt and experience in NASCAR, those drivers would be great drivers at the track so that they can offer advice to inexperienced drivers on the dirt.
Roller: Any time we can mix things up with dirt aces, that is fine by me. It would be neat to see a Stewart-Haas Racing-prepared car fielded by Go FAS Racing and driven by Donny Schatz, or for even Brad Sweet make a NASCAR return.
With Martin Truex Jr. making his Xfinity Series return for the first time in a decade, how do you think he will perform?
Sturniolo: Martin Truex Jr. will be an immediate threat for the win at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He starts midpack in 18th in the No. 54, sure. But as evidenced by Ty Gibbs‘ amazing performances and Ty Dillon showing the car at least has competitive speed, there’s no way Truex is staying there. The car and package may be different – different from the last time he drove an NXS car in 2010 as well as from what he regularly drives now – but Truex is a proven champion in both Xfinity and Cup. Oh, yeah, and he’s the most recent Cup winner thanks to that victory at Phoenix Raceway. He’ll be just fine.
Haas: The last time Truex ran an Xfinity race, he scored Xfinity points, which has not happened for Cup guys since 2012. The expectations for Truex are about the same as the other drivers in the No. 54 this season; it would not be a shock if he contends for the win. Truex should have the momentum of winning last week at Phoenix. Atlanta and Phoenix are two different tracks, but Truex has performed well at Atlanta. In eight of the last nine Cup races there, he scored a top 10. At the track where he made his first Cup start, a top 10 in the Xfinity Series should be a reasonable goal for him.
Roller: Way different ball game and ballpark from when he last raced. If he has a clean race, Truex will score a top 10. My prediction is that he will finish seventh.
Gable: Truex is coming back to the Xfinity Series not just as a seasoned veteran, but also as a Cup champion. It won’t matter that he’s been away for a while, because he knows what it takes to win races and what he needs from the car and his team. Besides, the Xfinity field does not have the competitive depth of the Cup Series, so Truex in a JGR car should be an instant contender. He’ll have a good chance to win the race and should finish in the top 10 if nothing crazy happens.
There has been discussion that Atlanta may return to its old configuration. Is this something that should be pursued?
Haas: Change needs to be made. Comparing last year’s Atlanta race and this year’s Las Vegas event, there was an average of 22 more green flag lap passes at Las Vegas than Atlanta. In the past, Atlanta has been known to have great passing, yet recently passing has been harder. Atlanta would be restored to its former glory with a repave. The track can be redone similar to Las Vegas but with more banking. With progressive banking, the track will produce high speeds and passing.
Roller: That would be neat to see. It is something that shouldn’t have been changed in the first place, even if some memorable moments have come as a result. I’d like Atlanta to keep the legends oval, make the corners longer and make Atlanta a traditional oval in that configuration, but the price tag will probably be too high to do that.
Gable: Reconfiguring Atlanta is not necessary. Most of the best races that the track has hosted occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s after its reconfiguration into a quad oval. The 1992 season finale rightly holds a special place in the hearts of NASCAR fans. But the appeal of that race lies with the legendary championship battle and the culmination of Alan Kulwicki’s improbable triumph. The track itself has produced some fantastic finishes with the current layout, and a costly reconfiguration is not needed to preserve the high-speed, side-by-side battles that Atlanta does so well. Not to mention that Homestead-Miami Speedway’s current design is very similar to Atlanta’s former layout. We can leave Atlanta as it is and enjoy Homestead for being a modern twist on old Atlanta.
Sturniolo: Absolutely. While Atlanta put on amazing shows from 2000-2005, plus some excellent moments down the road like Jeff Gordon claiming win No. 85 over Jimmie Johnson in 2011, shaping Atlanta back to a true oval would be a tremendous move. Outside of Homestead, no track on the schedule over 1 mile in length is a true oval. And the paving can be done right to promote the same multi-groove racing we used to see there and certainly love today at Homestead. One more track shaped like Homestead and one less shaped like Charlotte Motor Speedway is a net positive.