Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Five Questions after Bank of America 500

(Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs)
Mother Nature is pretty rude.

Saturday’s persistent rain forced the Bank of America 500 to Sunday afternoon. As the first track of the Contender 12 round, Charlotte Motor Speedway was under a lot of pressure; it had to deliver the same excitement that occurred in the first round—maybe even more. Did it live up to that expectation?

Instead of a post-race recap, I’m asking my Five Questions after Charlotte and discussing what happened to Logano, Earnhardt Jr. and many more in those 500 miles. Let’s dissect the fourth race of the Chase, shall we?

Are Logano and Harvick locks for the final four? Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick triumphed throughout the day, finishing first and second respectively. It became apparent to many that these two are bound for the four-car championship battle—right? While it may seem like they’re in a league of their own, the Chase will pull them back to reality real quick. I’ll touch on this point later on in this column. Nothing is certain with this format—which is why it was implemented. So, if you’re getting sick of seeing the No. 4 and No. 22 up front, I do have to be a killjoy and tell you I think both teams are stout enough to recover from any setbacks they encounter. Look at Harvick’s last three races; he recovered when everyone counted him out. When it comes to those two either falling out or making it all the way, I go with the latter.

What went wrong for Hendrick? We can’t avoid the elephant in the room. What has happened to Hendrick Motorsports? Jimmie Johnson was eliminated last week and encountered more problems on Sunday when engine issues shattered the team’s hopes of grabbing another win at CMS. The No. 88 wasn’t safe, either. Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun early on after contact with Carl Edwards. The car got worse as the day went on, eventually resulting in a 28th-place finish. Teammate Kasey Kahne suffered the most after hitting the wall twice at the beginning of the race. Two blown tires caused him to finish last. Jeff Gordon was HMS’s saving grace, finishing eighth and keeping himself in the championship hunt. Ever since the Chase came into the viewfinder, the Chevrolet team has been severely subpar. It’s most likely problems at the race shops. They don’t have the parts to last entire races. Kahne’s problems were completely avoidable; something in the wheel well or with the camber caused the tires to blow. The entire organization is making mistakes we don’t expect to see—and it’s costing them.

How is Joe Gibbs Racing’s second half? Half of JGR did well this past weekend; Denny Hamlin finished fourth while Edwards came home sixth despite his run-in with the No. 88. This is a good sign for both teams. Many have been focusing on Matt Kenseth, and Kyle Busch has been a hot topic since making it into the Chase. The scrutiny comes from being the only team with all four cars in championship contention. As silly as it may sound, Hamlin and Edwards are the underdogs here. Hamlin—who made it to the final round last year—is shaping up to be a serious threat, even with a torn ACL. Edwards has fought for (and lost) a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title before and is finally looking at making an encore appearance. Although it might be easy to talk about Kenseth, these two are the ones other drivers should be worried about.

Who couldn’t escape the Chase’s claws? Speaking of Kenseth and Busch, they weren’t so lucky yesterday The No. 20 ended up in the garage after multiple issues. It was just one of those days. The No. 18 was caught up in an interesting incident with Kyle Larson when Busch faked a move to pit road, and Larson came in late. The two collided and damaged their cars. It was completely avoidable and a good example of how playing games can ruin your own chances. I talked about Earnhardt Jr. earlier, and he’s currently below the cut-off line. Ryan Newman joins these three in the doghouse after contact with Kenseth on a restart pushed back his progress. He wound up 15th when the checkered flag waved. These four are in hot water, but they still have Kansas Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway to look forward to! OK, the last one might make them uneasy. Gulp.

Was this the best Charlotte race ever? No one knew what to expect when the race was moved to Sunday afternoon. Some thought it would facilitate great racing. Others believed it would be a disaster. Well, I’m sorry to say that this—the race wasn’t great. I can’t help but compare it to the other 1.5-mile races, and I’m quite disappointed. I want that low downforce package at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I want it to transform the racing into must-see action, and it needs help. NASCAR had to chance to use that package—one that teams and fans both enjoyed—and didn’t. It was a stupid move. Even if it had gone wrong, CMS is the first race of the second round; it’s not like it was an elimination event. Long story short, it wasn’t the best Charlotte race ever, but it produced some good storylines and a bit of drama. To someone with low standards, that makes it a winner. To me, that makes it worth a shrug.