Friday, September 4, 2015

Back in the Day: Five Questions for Darlington

(Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Let’s go back in time, shall we?

This week is a thrilling week for the sport. The Southern 500 is one of the crown jewel races because of its prestige and difficulty. There’s nothing more satisfying than winning a race on your Bucket List, and this one is on many drivers’ ballots.

It’s even more exciting because of the throwback movement. The old paint schemes, the firesuits, everything you could imagine looks like it did back in the day. Nostalgia is officially cranked up to eleven.

On this week’s Five Questions, I discuss the silly season silence, Chase Elliott, the low downforce package, and more as we prepare for the race at Darlington Raceway.

Will silly season ramp up? It’s been oddly quiet on the silly season front; normally by this time, there are serious rumors floating around. The only thing to discuss is Michael Waltrip Racing will start laying off people in November. However, things may be set in motion soon enough. Clint Bowyer and David Ragan are still searching for homes. I mentioned a few weeks ago the talk about Bowyer at Stewart-Haas Racing. Where does Ragan land? No whispers yet, but they should start within the next few weeks. Many contracts are up after next season, which explains the silence. Nothing crazy is expected yet.

Can Elliott perform on bigger stage? We’re headed to Darlington Raceway, the place were Chase Elliott started his hot streak in 2014. It ended with a championship. This time around, Elliott is competing in both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events. Can that success transfer onto the top-level? It won’t be easy; different car and aero package both play into that prediction. There’s no doubt Elliott is a great talent, but there are too many unknowns at this point. Add Hendrick Motorsports’ sudden slump, and you have a mixed bag. If there’s any stage you want to hog the spotlight on, it’s this one. Hopefully, he can make the most of it.

What does the low downforce package mean for the drivers? Ah yes, the return of the low downforce package. It’s been on the shelf since the July race at Kentucky Speedway. This is a godsend for drivers. Typical Darlington means drivers are racing the track, not each other. This package will make passing easier. In theory, that translates into exciting racing and happy racers. It can also mean looser cars. There will most likely be more Darlington stripes by Sunday night. It will be touch-and-go for a while, but I think drivers will like the package at this famed racetrack.  

How can Darlington affect the Chase? With Darlington back to its original Labor Day date, it has a serious opportunity to shake up the Chase field. There are a set number of guys trying to get in, and this is their chance. The aforementioned downforce package adds to the mystery. If there’s anyone who can benefit, it’s probably Kasey Kahne. He’s known for closing the deal at the last possible moment, and he won on this weekend last year. Plus, Darlington is his type of track. Even if that prediction doesn’t come true, there’s no denying that this place makes some crazy stuff happen. Things are usually settled by the race at Richmond International Raceway. Teams must capitalize when they can, so they better be prepared for this weekend.

Did NASCAR actually admit a mistake? It is such a relief to see the Darlington date return to its natural habitat. Tradition is a lost art form in today’s society, and seeing some is very refreshing. Aside from that, there’s a glaring realization here: NASCAR admitted a mistake. No one likes it when they’re wrong, and this organization is no different. NASCAR is bad at accepting defeat, but they stepped up this time. To me, this signals a changing of the guard. We’ve witnessed the sport go from dictation and restraint to democracy and openness. This metamorphosis was needed and (by all accounts) successful. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to fixing it, you know. With that in mind, there might be more changes down the road. Let’s just be proud of NASCAR for now.