*A third of the way through this year’s championship battle, which drivers are looking like they’ll still be there going into Homestead… and whose bid is toast already?*
Phil: Well, Matt Kenseth for sure. That dude can’t buy a break. I’ve never heard a sound like the one produced when his track bar broke.
Amy: I know, Phil, that was crazy. I could almost hear the conversation at the shop: “Hey, what do you want to do with these weird track bars? Toss ’em?” “Nah, we’ll just use them on Matt’s car, why waste them?”
*In 2011, Tony Stewart won the championship on the strength of five Chase victories. After two races this year, Jimmie Johnson leads the points after finishing second twice. Will that type of consistency near the front be enough to capture a Chase title… or will it take multiple wins?*
Mike: It all depends on what happens around Johnson. In reality, most every year if you can average a top-5 finish you’re going to be right there.
Amy: I think it will take multiple wins…but will it take five? That’s a stretch to think it will go that way again with so many teams capable of winning two or more races.
*Jeff Gordon’s Chicagoland race was cut short when he hit the wall after the throttle stuck on the No. 24. Is Gordon’s Chase bid over already, or is it too early to count anyone out?*
Kevin: It’s too early to count anyone out completely, I think. But it’s not looking good for him. Another race like this, say this week or next… then I’ll be more likely to count him out.
Mike N.: He’s done. I know it seems ludicrous to say that but Gordon’s already a full race behind with 11 drivers in front of him. The odds of overcoming that are ridiculous.
Summer: Well, for starters I think you have to look at Hamlin. I would say _the_ favorite, though, is Jimmie.
Mike N.: You can’t ignore Hamlin. He’s been on fire the last few races, but Johnson has been strong since Indy and I just think they are poised for another one. The early favorites are Johnson, Hamlin, Kenseth and Biffle. In theory, none of the top 12 can be counted out, but I honestly don’t think Harvick, Kahne, Truex or Bowyer have a shot.
*With his win at Atlanta, Denny Hamlin is guaranteed at least a tie for the top spot in the Chase. Given that Hamlin is currently a distant seventh in points, should this be the case?*
Amy: Um, the words “hell, no” come to mind… it’s a massive slap in the face to the guys who have been the best drivers all year long.
Tom: Hamlin’s pulling a Tony Stewart 2011 as we speak. What an awful summer of being completely irrelevant, but that’s the way this format works — he deserves it based on the rules given to all the teams in February.
*After Bristol Motor Speedway made changes to the track over the summer, the track promoted racing closer to what fans saw prior to 2007. But did the track live up to the hype?*
Summer: Oh yeah. The helmet throw was enough for that to be a reality.
Kevin: I think it did. I wasn’t able to look away for both the Cup and Nationwide races, and in that regard I think the races were at least successful.
Mike N.: Closer to racing before the repave? No. Closer to before they put concrete down? Yes. It was different than we’ve seen there in the last 20 years. Prior to the concrete, they used to diamond the corners kind of like they did Saturday night. It was great racing.
*After his win at Michigan, is Greg Biffle a legitimate title favorite, or is he a step behind some other teams?*
Summer: He’s a step behind others, but would be a good dark horse pick. If he had more wins, I’d feel differently.
Phil: I like that, Summer. Biffle’s really been the quiet type this year.
Kevin: I think it’s tough to say since Roush isn’t at the level altogether that they were at season’s beginning, but I think he could pull it off with some consistency.
Amy: Honestly, I’m not sure about Biffle. Every time I think he’s going to win a couple of races, he doesn’t. I think he’s a favorite, but not _the_ favorite, if that makes sense. Remember, he essentially lucked into the win Sunday.
*The race at Watkins Glen produced a thrilling finish, but it was not without controversy, as several drivers complained of oil on the track in the final laps. Should NASCAR have thrown the caution, or did they make the right decision to keep the race under green?*
Mike N.: They made the right decision. While the treading was treacherous, there wasn’t anyone who went off-track until the last corner because of it.
Phil: Treacherous at the least. But Ambrose and Keselowski were fine with NASCAR not throwing the yellow, and I’d argue that not throwing made for a much better conclusion.
*Sunday’s Pocono race ended in tragedy when a fan was killed by lightning in the parking lot while nine others were injured. The race started after a rain delay of over an hour, and severe weather, with hail, damaging winds, and lightning had been predicted for later in the day. Knowing that the impending storms would likely be severe and that there was little chance of racing the advertised distance, should NASCAR have postponed the race until Monday?*
Amy: Yes, in this case, I think so. It wasn’t like it was 50/50 on the storms; NASCAR knew before the race started that they were going to happen.
Phil:: I was surprised that they were able to get the track dry as fast as they did on Sunday.
*In the past four years, since the tire debacle of 2008 NASCAR attendance at Indianapolis Motor Speedway has dropped by almost 50 percent. What does the sport, or the track need to do in order to bring back prestige and popularity to what was the second-biggest race?*
Phil: I think that godawfulness from 2008 is still playing a role, along with a bunch of other factors. Indianapolis is also the toughest track to pass at in NASCAR.
Tom: I think the biggest problem has been the changeover to the Car of Tomorrow. This particular chassis just has never adapted to Indy; I mean, passing is almost impossible.
Beth: I wouldn’t mind having that hype, Mike. At least there’d be some excitement for the ten race playoff that (with the exception of last year) hasn’t been all that exciting.
Phil: This isn’t even the longest consecutive race stretch ever. I seem to recall a nasty 20 race stretch at one point.
Amy: Honestly, I think the best plan would be to have one now AND one in September.
Mike N.: Assuming they want to have two breaks, I’d rather see them do one after 13 weeks and another before the Chase.
Amy: I like that idea, Mike.