|(Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)|
When your back is against the wall, what do you do?
This is the questions for a couple of NASCAR drivers this weekend as they head to Loudon, New Hampshire. Only on the second race of the Chase, there’s still time to fight back—for some.
I have many questions for this weekend, from Travis Pastrana to Michael Waltrip Racing to racetrack smack downs. Let’s get into this week’s edition of Five Questions.
What should we expect from Pastrana’s reappearance? Yes, you read that correctly—Travis Pastrana is returning to NASCAR for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It’s been two years since the X Games gold medalist drove in NASCAR. His sole Truck start came at Las Vegas in 2012, where he finished 15th. The former Roush-Fenway Racing Xfinity driver is coming back, but how will he do? I don’t expect much from Pastrana; he was decent in his two-year career, but there was always something holding him back from going to the next level. Pastrana’s thrill-seeking heart lives for that next level. He’ll run the No. 31 NTS Motorsports truck, which also fields a full-time ride in the NCWTS. He may do well, but it depends on if he can shake the cobwebs off during those practice sessions.
Can New Hampshire benefit from the Chicagoland thrills? Chicagoland Speedway produced more Chase drama than anyone could imagine. It gave us a surprising winner (Denny Hamlin featuring his torn ACL) and some sassy moments between Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick. The excitement meter is currently pegged. Can New Hampshire Motor Speedway capitalize on everyone’s nerves? The answer is yes; not only are fans on edge but so are the drivers. They know that a win moves them onto the second round of the Chase, and many non-Chasers are looking strong. For some, NHMS is a difficult track that poses a threat to their hopes. There are many storylines, and we’re only heading into the second race. Anticipation is everywhere—and it should be.
How can MWR rebound from their harsh P4 penalty? The biggest news from this week was the serious penalty handed down to Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer and the No. 15 team for issues during opening-day inspection. As a result, Bowyer lost 25 driver points and crew chief Billy Scott for three races. This is more salt in the wound for that organization, and many are wondering if they can rebound after this blow. It’s going to be difficult, but we’ve seen crazier/more unlikely things happen, right? I think everyone wants to see MWR finish strong to ensure that those crew members—and drivers—get other opportunities within the sport. Also, seeing another organization close its doors is rough. Bowyer bouncing back at New Hampshire and advancing to the next round would be a great story, yes. But is it actually doable? Like I said, more insane things have happened. However, I’m leaning toward "no" due to the rest of the competition having an edge over MWR.
Will more punches be pulled? Everyone loves a good fight. NASCAR hasn’t seen one in a long time. Johnson vs. Harvick is the closest thing we’ve had to a brawl, which is why it’s getting all the media attention. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a sign of the times; is this going to cause a domino effect? I’m thinking yes. As I previously mentioned, the drivers are feeling the pressure and will get angry very easily. We can’t predict which drivers will jump into the ring next. We can talk about the atmosphere the Chase produces. It’s thicker, making everyone feel uncomfortable. That results in jumpy, anxious drivers. We’ll definitely see more disagreements, and I’m thinking a few more altercations as well.
Is an upset brewing beneath the cutoff line? Harvick is now second-to-last in the standings, 22 points behind 12th. Nobody expected the 2014 NSCS champion to be behind, let alone in danger of being eliminated. That’s the deadly beauty of the Chase. Now, the real questions is—will Harvick fall victim to the cutoff line? The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is known for his ability to close the deal and be there when it matters. His cars are great, his drive is even great. When the going gets tough, the tough go racing. That’s exactly what Harvick will do. If he does get left below the line, it will be because of outside forces like a large accident. When he gets bad finishes, he tends to come back and do extremely well the following week. That’s what I expect to happen this weekend in New Hampshire. Nevertheless, if he does get eliminated due to other circumstances, it will be an upset. As in everyone will be upset and tear their Chase Grids in half.