|Watkins Glen. Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images|
In this week’s Five Questions, I’m discussing Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, RAB Racing and much more. Let’s get thoughts rolling prior to this weekend’s events at Watkins Glen International.
What does National Guard’s departure mean for Earnhardt Jr. and his team? Late Wednesday, a news story broke wide open: National Guard will be pulling out of its motorsports connections. That includes sponsorship for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and IndyCar driver Graham Rahal. Although Hendrick Motorsports has that name on the car until the end of 2015, it’s hard to say if that part will be fulfilled. The whole situation feels awkward; even with Earnhardt Jr.’s fantastic, championship-caliber season, they pull out? Whatever the reasons may be, it’s a huge blow to the motorsports world. How does the No. 88 team react? They’ll try even harder to get that championship; what better way of showing them what they’re losing than achieving the sport’s highest honor?
Johnson: Dead in the water, or just playing dumb? The past three weekends have been disastrous for the other half of the 48/88 shop. Reigning champ Jimmie Johnson has posted un-Johnson-like finishes, slowly backpedaling before the Chase begins. What does all of this mean? Absolutely nothing: the No. 48 team is just experimenting before the playoffs ramp up. They do this every year, and it’s nothing to worry about unless it spills over.
Does Elliott’s foray into Cup spell success? Still on the HMS Train, owner Rick Hendrick was on Sirius XM NASCAR Wednesday and was asked about young Chase Elliott’s progress. The response was that he could make a few NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts next season. A four-car team can run a fifth car for a maximum of seven races, too. If this all comes to fruition, will Elliott light up the world like he did when he entered the NASCAR Nationwide Series? He will eventually, but it will take time. LOTS of time. Now, he could pull a Kyle Larson and impress all the doubters, but it seems unlikely that a 19-year-old could make limited Cup starts and be successful. It would take a bit for his talent to come up to par.
Is Duno dunzo before NNS venture even begins? What a busy news week! Earlier in the week, RAB Racing announced they will start Milka Duno on a limited NNS schedule, which is to be determined. Duno’s racing background is vast yet includes little success. She currently runs for Venturini Motorsports in ARCA with few lead lap finishes. With many young prospects out there, it’s hard to understand why they chose her. However, it will become obvious that the decision wasn’t a smart one, and RAB Racing will have to find a new driver.
Can the future of women in racing be salvaged? This talk about Duno puts the future of female racers into question. Will the long line of money-fueled, aesthetics-based opportunities ever end? Many people are wondering the same thing, and I’m here to provide an answer. Thinking from the perspective of aspiring racers, it never gets better. Why? Because there isn’t a good role model, even with Danica Patrick around; she did make it to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but it was by way of racy Go Daddy ads. It’s also notable that she fails to run competitively. However, she has since given up the questionable advertisements and focused on her racing career, which shows much ambition. That’s the key word: ambition. To make it in this male-dominated sport does take a lot of personal drive, and it’s easy to cave under the pressure like dozens have before. Johanna Long and Kenzie Ruston are two bright talents whose chances of making it are heightened. The two were raised in a stock car state of mind. They grab onto these cars easier. Long’s fate has been sidelined due to money problems yet lies on the tip of fans’ (and team owners’) tongues. Ruston’s burning up the K&N East Pro Series, recently posting the highest finish by a female on that level (second) at Iowa Speedway. Because she runs more often and keeps posting top-five finishes, she’s the one to watch, the role model. Her presence counteracts the stereotype of female racers. Not only are women behind the wheel, but they’re also in the garage and on TV. The controversy of women being in NASCAR will always be around, no matter how unethical and mind-boggling it may be. Meanwhile, a future is being built right before our eyes, and that’s impressive.