NASCAR is headed to Virginia to race one of the sport’s most historic venues. The Paperclip is bound to provide more storylines to the already-thrilling Chase, as it kicks off the third round.
It’ll be a race to remember, and a race to forget for some. Let’s jump into Five Questions, where I talk about Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, and more.
Can Earnhardt Jr. redeem himself? Last weekend was heartbreaking for Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans everywhere, and their driver was upset as well. The No. 88 was under the cutoff line after Talladega—ending his title hopes right then and there. Although he’s out of championship contention, that doesn’t mean the driver will ride out the rest of 2015. My prediction is he’ll visit victory lane this weekend for two reasons—he’s good there, and he’ll be even more motivated to get that victory. This may not be a redemption for not capturing the title, but it will help with the healing.
Where will Smith end up? This has to be the most pressing question in the entire sport; after two seasons of competing for the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship, Regan Smith is without a ride. JR Motorsports announced Wednesday that Justin Allgaier will pilot the No. 7 Chevrolet—for multiple years—starting in 2016. This began with the announcement of Tony Stewart’s retirement and caused a domino effect. Now, Smith is on the outside looking in. There are no rumors at the moment of his possible destination. His ability to get a ride—whether it be in Cup or Xfinity—hinges on what sponsors he can bring. As sad as that sounds, that the nature of the sport at the moment. Smith is a very talented driver, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been vocal about that; the JRM owner wants his driver to acquire a Cup ride. Any NSCS team would be lucky to have Smith in their stable. He just needs the money to attract them.
Is the “five-year guarantee” a good or bad move? I hope you like the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule because it’s staying that way until 2020. Okay, that’s not completely true; this agreement guarantees the current tracks their races, but the dates can be subject to change. The fact this ensures each track they’ll have a race or two is nice. However, this is a terrible move, and it makes me angry. NASCAR will remain stagnant for five years—how is that a good idea? With where the sport is now, it needs to keep improving. I understand that consistency signals a healthy organization. Despite that, it’s idiotic to ignore the fans who have wanted new tracks for years. “Add more short tracks! How about another road course? Some tracks need to go!” All of that apparently fell on deaf ears, and now we have the same schedule for five more years. I can’t wait.
What’s the real problem, Harvick’s move or the “single” restart? Speaking of fans, they were quite vocal about the finish at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday. What went down: after the field wrecked before the GWC attempt, NASCAR scrapped it and tried again. So the first attempt was “an attempt,” per say (quotes included). The genuine GWC took place, and carnage erupted when Kevin Harvick clipped the back of Trevor Bayne and triggered a huge wreck. That froze the field and ended the race. Joey Logano was crowned the winner. Now, many people were angry with Harvick. They claimed he turned Bayne on purpose to freeze the field, which kept him above the Chase cutoff line. NASCAR said they didn’t find anything wrong with his restart, so that’s over and done with. My main issue is that none of this would’ve happened if we still had the three GWC attempts. The single attempt was a dumb move that didn’t solve anything; "wrecking" and "Talladega" go together like peas and carrots. I know they did it for safety reasons, but it was the equivalent of putting a child in a plastic bubble because they stubbed their toe. Violent wrecks can happen anywhere at a restrictor plate track, not just the ending. Limiting the restarts caused the questioning of Harvick’s intentions by putting more pressure on the Chase scenario and the individual drivers. The fact they thought one restart would stifle the intensity is the real problem.
Will Martinsville rival Talladega’s insanity? It’s time to shift gears from one exciting venue to another. Martinsville Speedway is the sport’s oldest track and high on the list of crown jewel races. Winning at The Paperclip is an honor because earning the trophy means you fought tooth and nail for it. That’s the short track way—and it’s full of tempers and carnage. As we go from one of the biggest tracks to one of the smallest, the mentality doesn’t change much. Drivers must have a special game plan for handling the unpredictable elements of other drivers and the track’s twisted sense of humor. Martinsville will put on a show, and it will equal the craziness we saw at Talladega. It may even eclipse it.