Both Ryan Preece and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are in the final year of their contracts with JTG Daugherty Racing. Should either pursue other opportunities, or are they better off to stay put?
Josh Roller: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has settled in nicely, and if JTG Daugherty Racing is excited by his results, Stenhouse shouldn’t leave. On the other hand, without a charter there isn’t any guarantee Ryan Preece is racing at JTG in 2022. Preece should explore what options are available across all three national divisions.
Luken Glover: The Next Gen car should help JTG keep its two teams, but it is not guaranteed the team will field a duo next year. It is still uncertain that Preece will have enough sponsorship to compete in the full season, as the No. 37 team does not possess a charter. How many cars are fielded next season will determine what these two drivers do. Stenhouse is definitely someone JTG can build around. However, I have wanted to see Stenhouse in a competitive ride for years now. It is easy to forget just how good he was in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and his dirt skills are quietly sharp. He has the aggression that NASCAR needs in a driver. He just needs to know when to be aggressive and when to play it smart. There aren’t too many options this upcoming offseason, but Stenhouse deserves to explore his options. If he is able to, Preece should stay right where he is and continue to develop.
Joy Tomlinson: Preece should definitely look for more opportunities outside of JTG, as he currently doesn’t run a chartered car. However, he would need sponsorship to get to a different team, and I don’t know if he brings any sponsors on his own. Stenhouse should stay at JTG as there’s not a whole lot of teams that are currently open that are more funded than this team. He started out well this year, running in the teens for the first nine events. Stenhouse even finished second at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track. I think if he could string together more good results like that, he could potentially help the team get into the playoffs.
Describe your ideal All-Star Race format.
Glover: At this point, NASCAR needs to hold a town hall for teams and fans to voice their idea of an All-Star Race. Here’s my pitch: NASCAR is specifically unique from the NBA, MLB and NFL, and many fans have reasonably expressed their opinion that it should remain that way — and I agree. However, why not hold a fan vote for All-Star participants? Have the fans vote in the top 15 drivers. The remaining drivers compete in a three-stage All-Star Open. We see stars in other sports just miss the cut each year in other professional sports, and this also gives the sport’s top stars a chance to shine. Number placement should remain the same. If Rockingham Speedway would be suitable, I would like to see the race be run there. Otherwise, move it back to Charlotte Motor Speedway. Make it four stages of 25 laps each and race it to the end. This can throw strategy options in there and have the best battle it out. One thing I would like to see thrown in the mix is the pit crew challenge. It would be fun to bring this challenge back and hold it before the race.
Frank Velat: First, I really don’t care where it’s held. I liked Charlotte for continuity, but it’s not a necessity. Second, stop letting every major team in just because. All-Star implies that the racers are the best of the best. Someone who hasn’t won in three years doesn’t fit that description. Qualification should be full-time winners since the previous year’s event, the defending series champion, a fan vote winner and the winner of an Open held just prior to the All-Star Race. That’s all. I liked the format that Winston had. I’d hold three segments of 30, 30 and 10 laps with the winners of the first two making up the front row of the final segment. No caution laps count and you must make one pit stop under green at any point during the race.
Roller: A lot depends on whether Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, North Wilkesboro Speedway and a 37th points race get added to the schedule. But keeping it based on the 2021 tracks and schedule, I’m keeping the race close to Charlotte. I’m going to pick Bristol Motor Speedway because currently, and for many decades, there has been a lack of short tracks in the summer months. Having the All-Star Race that is in late June or early July at a short track partially checks that box. The ONLY guaranteed entries to the All-Star Race would be race winners since the previous one. The Open would feature four 15-lap segments, with the segment winners moving on to the All-Star Race. Next would be the live drawing for starting positions, with driver participation, and it would be during this time that the fan vote takes place. The fan vote winner by fans in the stands and at home would take 15 or 20 minutes. The winner would be announced once the starting lineup drawing is complete. The winner of the fan vote would start last. The All-Star Race itself would be four segments of 60-45-30-15. Caution laps of any kind would not count. No gimmicks. No inverts. No calculations. No rules for how or when to pit the car. Just race, get to the front based on speed and strategy and win.
Noah Gragson has failed to finish six of the 13 Xfinity Series races this season. Is there a problem, or is Gragson simply a victim of bad luck?
Roller: A lot of Noah Gragson‘s issues have been bad luck. Nothing he can do differently from a driving standpoint. He needs to keep his chin up and focus on the race ahead, not those behind him. He’ll find victory lane soon. He and his team are fast but just haven’t caught the necessary breaks. Gragson should be encouraged by the speed of his teammates and, ultimately, his own speed.
Glover: A lot of bad luck has certainly hit Gragson, but there are times where it is of his own doing. Gragson has a driving style that is good for the sport: controversial, aggressive and a take-no-prisoners approach. However, one downside of his style is it gets him into trouble easily. It is possible to have this approach and play it smart. That’s what Gragson needs to do more of and know when to push the issue. The very first few laps are not the time to do so.
Velat: Gragson is aggressive and such a mannerism lends itself to being involved in incidents. Fortunately for him, this points format is very forgiving. He could continue to flounder but as long as he can come up with a win, it won’t be crushing to his title hopes. However, if he continues this trend in the playoffs, it could be a short run. Not to mention, he hasn’t won yet this year so that’s no guarantee either. But I don’t think his job is at stake.
Jeff Gordon is reportedly considering his options for next year with both FOX and Hendrick Motorsports. Should the four-time champion return to the booth or focus on a role at HMS?
Velat: Gordon should have never been in the booth to begin with. He is solid as an announcer, but he has an obvious link to his former team that turns him into an HMS cheerleader from time to time. It’s not as bad as Dale Earnhardt Jr. calling Xfinity Series races, but it’s getting there. There can’t be any expectation of impartiality when everyone knows full well that Hendrick will be Jeff Gordon’s team some day. Plus there are so many capable journalists that it’s not necessary to stock the booth with former participants of the sport. Why not hire some people who were trained at higher education to do the job?
Glover: A couple of years ago, Gordon told NBC Sports that he “would be honored” to take ownership of HMS. While his FOX role has been his main priority, the four-time champ has been heavily involved in the operations of HMS. Gordon’s knowledge of the car adds another level of strength to the powerhouse, and his marketing ability can come in handy, especially with a driver like Kyle Larson searching for sponsorship. It is a win-win situation either way he goes, but it would benefit him more to take on a bigger role on HMS. He will likely take the reins when Rick Hendrick retires. Plus, there are many good options in the pipeline for FOX to fill Gordon’s spot, such as Jamie McMurray, maybe Kevin Harvick following retirement or a former crew chief.
Roller: I’m in the minority here, I know, but I have enjoyed Gordon in the booth. He was a fresh take on racing when he joined the booth in 2016. No disrespect to Darrell Waltrip, but it was easy to tell he hadn’t been behind the wheel in over a decade, which was only made worse when Gordon would correct him. Gordon brought a fresh take on current racing. With that said, a larger role at Hendrick has been his destiny for years. It is time for Gordon to step out of the booth and play the owner role only. With him being part of that next generation of owners, it is time for him to take on a new ambassador role within the garage as NASCAR evolves and new owners step into the sport.