Two drivers have combined to win all but one ARCA Menards Series race this season. Does this diminish the relevance of the series?
Mark Kristl: It diminishes the spotlight on other drivers, especially the other two who are full time. However, it does not diminish the series. ARCA is the NASCAR equivalent of Single A, and both Ty Gibbs and Corey Heim are showing their impressive talent in top-notch equipment.
Josh Roller: It doesn’t diminish the importance of the series in the NASCAR feeder series ladder. Still, it unquestionably takes away the ability for the remainder of the field to get time under the spotlight. But the larger issue in ARCA is the limited amount of teams that can compete for wins. If you aren’t in a Toyota, namely for either Joe Gibbs Racing or Venturini Motorsports, you likely will not win. Let’s not focus on the fact that two drivers have 11 of the 12 races but rather that only four drivers at best are competing for race wins.
Jesse Johnston: No. It isn’t a case of Gibbs or Heim being too good, it’s a case of the rest of the field not being good enough. What we’re seeing out of Gibbs and Heim is becoming a near replica of the 2009 championship battle between Justin Lofton and Parker Kligerman. Everyone else is irrelevant. Seeing more full-time drivers in the field would help spice up the title fight. But competitive drivers like Thad Moffitt, Nick Sanchez, Gracie Trotter, Sam Mayer and Bret Holmes need to try something different in order to keep the Nos. 18 and 20 out of victory lane.
Jared Haas: The concern for ARCA is not who is winning but who is showing up. It is almost no one. The average field size is 22 cars this year, while 20 years ago, the average field was about 37 cars. Only four drivers have run all the races compared to eight in 2001. The elephant in the room is there is not a ton of new growth. The purse money structure skews having full-time teams rather than part-time teams trying to get their footing. Like the minor leagues, the lower series of racing like ARCA are breeding grounds from savvy veterans like Ryan Newman to young, upcoming successful drivers like Chase Briscoe. The issue is amplified with Gibbs and Heim winning the majority of the races, with no one in the same zip code. ARCA was the ticket to NASCAR stardom, but it is a shell of what it was.
Chase Elliott could join Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin as the only drivers to win three consecutive races at Watkins Glen International this weekend in the NASCAR Cup Series. Will it happen?
Roller: The odds are more likely in his favor to win than to lose. Chase Elliott knows how to wheel his car around Watkins Glen, maximizing his pace through the braking zones. He’ll grab his third straight win there this weekend.
Kristl: Yes. Even if Hendrick Motorsports has not dominated as of late, it is one of the best teams in the garage, Elliott is arguably the best road course driver and the Olympic break allowed Hendrick to fully regroup to return to victory lane.
Haas: Very likely. Elliott has proven that he can win deep in the field. The only thing that can stop Elliott is a race-altering strategy and Kyle Larson. He has finished either first or 13th in four Watkins Glen races. Elliott will be the car to beat on Sunday.
Johnston: He can try. But it won’t be easy. Martin Truex Jr. doesn’t want Elliott to get the best of him at the Glen for three straight years. Kyle Busch has finished every race he’s run at the Glen, with two wins and a worst finish of only 20th. Larson will want to shine for Hendrick and get his first win at the track. Christopher Bell has a good Xfinity record at the Glen and could surprise the field again like he did at the Daytona International Speedway road course. And Elliott’s good friend Ryan Blaney would love to reverse the roles from this year’s Busch Clash and not lose out on another win.
Bristol Motor Speedway has started selling suite tickets so that fans of a specific driver can sit together. Do you like the idea, and should it extend to some grandstand sections?
Johnston: It’s a good idea in the style of how Bristol is doing it. But keep it contained to just the suites. This isn’t a high school game of football or basketball, where you have the home team fans in one set of grandstands and the away team fans in another. The beauty of attending NASCAR races is that fans of all 40 drivers can share the same grandstands and have a fun time watching the same race together. Separating them in the stands like that would just be silly.
Haas: It’s a good marketing idea where fans of the same drive can sit together. It should be fun outright selling each section for the driver, but selling out a section or two for a specific driver could cause a better fan experience. Have a competition to see if the Elliott or Blaney fan section sells out first.
Kristl: I like the idea because it brings together fans of the same driver. Now those fans have others to root with them together for their favorite driver, chat about their respective fandom for the driver and team and perhaps make friends with people who share a favorite.
Roller: This is a fantastic idea. However, I would like to see the idea of placing fans of the same driver together in the regular grandstands. It’s a completely different experience for one watching a race from the grandstands compared to a suite. And second, not everyone is going to want to cough up more money for a suite ticket. Spread this out to the grandstands where the cost of admission is more economical.
The Camping World Truck Series concludes its regular season this weekend at Watkins Glen. The playoff field seems set, barring a major upset, but Grant Enfinger remains inside the top 10 despite missing a race. Should NASCAR grant a waiver and give Enfinger a spot, increasing the total field to 11?
Haas: NASCAR is not going to expand the playoff field for that reason. If Grant Enfinger was eligible, he would knock someone out of the playoffs, not be added to the field. It is unfortunate to be ineligible for the playoffs because Enfinger did not have a ride at the Daytona road course. Rules are rules, but NASCAR is not going to change this rule for this scenario. This rule should simplify in 2022 to state, “Any driver declares points eligibility in a series can be eligible to make the playoffs.” This rule change would make the waiver talk simpler.
Roller: If Busch can miss 11 races and still be eligible for a championship, Enfinger should also be allowed to race for a championship. I am well aware that Busch missed those races due to an injury, but it was 11 races. The keyboard warriors came out saying how Aric Almirola shouldn’t be in the playoffs because he was 27th in points entering New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Busch was in a similar boat as he was still in the high 20s in points when the regular season ended. Enfinger was unable to find a ride for a single race and will be left out of the championship hunt despite being competitive enough between two rides to remain in the top 10 in points. He deserves to be in the playoffs. Waivers should only be granted if a driver changes which series they declare points for in the middle of the season, not if a race is missed, no matter the reason.
Kristl: NASCAR should not grant a waiver because he has not attempted all races. What NASCAR should do is revamp its playoff eligibility in the future. Allow the top 30 in Cup points, top 25 in Xfinity Series points and top 20 in Truck points to be eligible for the playoffs. Then use the same playoff field composition. Wins then points — no need for subjective waivers.
Johnston: Enfinger should’ve had playoff eligibility this whole time. The fact that he doesn’t have it is absurd. The situation of not landing a ride for a race should be lumped into the same category as missing a race due to injury or sickness. Enfinger is a likable guy and a talented wheelman. If he were to win at the Glen and still not receive playoff eligibility, it would expose a massive hole in the logic of this silly rule implemented by NASCAR. I hope he gets it done.
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