The approval process for drivers to race in the NASCAR Cup Series has come into question with NASCAR denying Jennifer Jo Cobb for Talladega Superspeedway. Are her credentials sufficient enough, or was it the right call?
Luken Glover: Putting Jennifer Jo Cobb in a car for her debut at Talladega was a questionable decision, so I can see the point of view there. However, Harrison Burton is allowed to make his Cup debut this week at Talladega. Granted, Burton has had strong results in the Xfinity Series on superspeedways, but Cobb also has years of experience in lower series. The concern is that she has not had favorable results due to underfunded equipment and has no experience in Cup. Had she made her debut at an intermediate track, short track or road course, the outcome would have likely been different. NASCAR made the right call but needs to be more transparent on this issue.
Alex Gallacher: It makes little to no sense to me when a guy like Derek White was able to run a Cup race having only a handful of Pinty’s Series, Camping World Truck and Xfinity series starts, yet Cobb, who has consistently since 2010 in the Truck Series is refused. I know NASCAR said it’s not because of the Norm Benning incident at Martinsville Speedway, but I call BS. You can’t claim a driver like Cobb doesn’t have enough experience yet allow moving chicanes like Cody Ware, James Davison and Quin Houff to compete with much less experience. NASCAR needs to streamline its license requirements, because at the moment they seem to be willy nilly.
Frank Velat: I have a problem with the inconsistency here as well as a lack of transparency. What exactly is the requirement to race in Cup? No one really knows because NASCAR doesn’t put anything out there that states exactly what needs to be done. This to be completely intentional and a bit of a shady way of keeping it a judgment call. If there’s someone NASCAR wants in the race for one reason or another, they get approved. If a driver doesn’t bring anything to the table or hinders the possibility of a more desirable driver being able to race, they get denied.
Josh Roller: I have a strange suspicion that those who made the decision to not approve Cobb to race in Sunday’s GEICO 500 looked strictly at her results and not the entire race — especially those in more recent seasons. As we are all well aware, results don’t tell the entire story. She has enough experience behind the wheel of a truck that she undisputedly should be approved to race on any track in any division of NASCAR. While I applaud NASCAR for seemingly taking a stand on driver qualifications to race in the Cup Series, there are drivers who will be in Sunday’s race at Talladega who have less combined starts between the ARCA Menards Series, Camping World Truck Series, Xfinity Series and Cup Series than Cobb’s 217 starts in the Truck Series. Heck, there are drivers for whom you can combine their total starts between those four divisions and still won’t tally up to Cobb’s 217 starts. She deserves to be approved.
Formula 1 announced a new U.S. venue in Miami while its future at Circuit of the Americas remains uncertain. Would F1 and Cup benefit running an event in conjunction?
Roller: At face value, any differing auto racing disciplines running together on the same weekend at the same track is beneficial to both parties. Ticket holders and track attendees get to experience both at the same time or one for the first time altogether. They get to interact with a different racing culture and its drivers and other personalities. This would all hold true if NASCAR and F1 were to hold a doubleheader weekend at COTA (or the Miami Grand Prix, but I much prefer COTA). The problem I see is that while NASCAR is a traveling circus in the United States, F1 is a monster galivanting across the globe. Major concessions would need to be made by both governing bodies in order to make this work, which would more than likely include no feeder divisions for either, or at the very least NASCAR. Most importantly, the weekend would need to have a single promoter, not one for each.
Velat: This will never happen — and it’s a shame, because it would be an absolute win for fans. The first obstacle is ego. Both are the premier racing series in their respective arenas, and both would want to be the weekend finale as well as the top billing that comes with it. When two superstars share a stage, neither wants to be the opener. Also, both have such an extensive traveling road show that I’m not sure any U.S. facility could handle all of each series’ teams and sanctioning body, television equipment and people that would come along.
Gallacher: Why not give it a try? I know that it probably won’t work, but I would love to see an F1/ NASCAR doubleheader in Mexico City or Montreal. It serves as a perfect way to get the Cup Series back into the international market. Would this ever happen? Hell, no; F1 likes to be the star of the show no matter where it is. But I’d love to see them try it at least once.
Glover: They need to remain separate. While there are F1 fans who like NASCAR and vice versa, they are largely two different groups of fan bases. F1 cars are also more flexible on their tracks than NASCAR would be. While NASCAR needs a few road courses, its main focus should be on the oval brand of racing.
Talladega Superspeedway has a history of Cinderella winners, similar to Michael McDowell in this year’s Daytona 500. Name the driver in this field with the best chance to crash the playoff party like he did.
Gallacher: Easy, Daniel Suarez. Trackhouse Racing Team has been an impressive story this season. Suarez has risen to the occasion after sacrificing a year of his career to Gaunt Brothers Racing. His runs have been very strong, especially at Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt track. Suarez proved at Stewart-Haas Racing that he is a competent racer, and I see him a big threat for the upset at Talladega. That said, Bubba Wallace and Matt DiBenedetto may have something to say about that.
Roller: I look at Wallace as the very obvious choice here. He has always been in the superspeedway conversation ever since his second-place finish in the 2018 Daytona 500. Now that he is in the Toyota camp, his stock has risen, as Toyota has limited numbers. Wallace will be the driver on the outside looking in I will be keeping an eye on Sunday (April 24).
Glover: Chris Buescher stands out as someone who could burst an expected playoff driver’s bubble. Buescher is not out of the conversation yet for pointing his way in, but he will likely need to win a race with guys like Kurt Busch and DiBenedetto hanging around the bubble. He finished sixth at Talladega last June and won a stage in the October race. A post-race penalty relegated him from a top five to a 22nd-place finish, but he was around in the end. That sixth-place result is his only Talladega top 10, but don’t be surprised to see him competing for the win.
Velat: Tyler Reddick is a solid superspeedway racer, and he seems to be one of those on the cusp of his first Cup win. I absolutely expect him to win a race and think it to be more likely at Talladega than any other track.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series has six winners in the first seven races. How big can the list get?
Velat: While it is certainly possible to hit at least a dozen at this pace, I actually don’t see it happening. It’s still early and Austin Cindric is only going to get better. Double-digit winners among series regulars are possible but not probable. I don’t see Jeb Burton, Ryan Sieg or Jeremy Clements winning a race this year. Daniel Hemric should, while Riley Herbst and Michael Annett fall into the maybe category. Plus, there will be Cup drivers who steal away Xfinity victories. It happens every year, and 2021 will be no different.
Glover: It is very possible the series could get to a dozen winners among regulars, but I think they come up just short. I expect all Joe Gibbs Racing drivers to win a race. The Kaulig cars of Justin Haley and Burton could sneak a win or two to join teammate AJ Allmendinger. And Noah Gragson will very likely land in victory lane at least once. Herbst and Annett would make or break the scenario if everyone else were to win. However, neither has shown me they can put themselves in a position to get the deal done unless it happens at a superspeedway or because of strategy. It’s Xfinity, though, so anything can happen.
Gallacher: It’s fully possible. The guys who have not won that I can see winning are Haley, Harrison Burton, Hemric, Gragson and Brandon Jones, and the rain or superspeedway wildcards are Herbst, Jeb Burton, Annett and Brett Moffitt. Should all of them win, that brings the grand total to 15 different winners. In reality, I see it capping at 13.
Roller: A dozen isn’t that much of a stretch. Hemric, Harrison Burton, Haley, Jeb Burton, Gragson and Jones all have failed to reach victory lane so far in 2021. While Ty Gibbs and Josh Berry are points racing and have victories in the Xfinity Series this season, they aren’t true regulars. When you add Herbst, Annett, Sieg and to an extent Clements and Brandon Brown, a dozen different winners is certainly possible among the Xfinity regulars.