Friday, October 2, 2015

Producing Passion: Five Questions for Dover

 (Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
I don’t usually get mad, but I am this week.

The Chase is heating up and bringing out the sass in everyone—including myself. This is just one thing to love about the final 10 races. It produces passion, something NASCAR embraces and uses to their advantage.

As we gear up for Dover, I have five questions. Five pertinent questions that I discuss with sass and honesty. That’s your warning before you dive into this week’s column. Enjoy!

Will NCWTS impress during the standalone race at Vegas? Viva Las Vegas Motor Speedway! The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will invade the high-rollin’ town on Friday, which is ironic considering half the Truck drivers aren’t old enough to gamble. Haha. Anyway, they’re near the West Coast while the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race near the other ocean. These singled-out events are the best because we’re guaranteed to see a NCWTS regular win; although the Cup guys put on a good show, their victories aren’t as thrilling when compared to a (possible) first-time winner hoisting the trophy. Also, this will be the perfect chance to spotlight the tight championship battle. Young Erik Jones is leading, but two-time champ Matt Crafton is only 10 points behind. Things could get interesting under the lights at Las Vegas, and I’m expecting it to be a fantastic show.

Does a NXS race at Pocono really appeal to anyone? Pocono Raceway announced that the Xfinity Series will join Sprint Cup and Trucks next June to create a NASCAR tripleheader weekend. It will replace NXS’s standalone event at Chicagoland Speedway, and I can’t find words to express my confusion. WHY would you do this? Not only is it moving Xfinity into Cup’s shadow but it’s also going in the wrong direction. The sport should be adding more standalone events—at new, unique tracks, I might add—so the NASCAR Xfinity Series can develop its own identity. Instead, we’re sending it to Pocono to join the other two series. However, the track has a very devoted fan base, so there will be money coming in. It’s not the move I would’ve made, but that’s probably why I don’t run NASCAR.

With eliminations looming, what should we expect at Dover? Dover International Speedway is the final race of the first round—which means drama is afoot. At this point, it’s a crapshoot; both Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are below the cutoff, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one point away from being in hot water. I’ve been surprised and impressed from the Chase so far, with Chicagoland and New Hampshire Motor Speedway both delivering shock and awe. Dover will no doubt follow suit. Harvick, Busch and Earnhardt are all in trouble, and there will be some wrecking going on as well. Although you can’t predict tempers flaring, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some angry drivers after the race. All in all, Dover’s going to live up to the expectations—and possibly shatter them.

Can his retirement announcement restart Stewart’s season? Another legend is hanging up his helmet. Tony Stewart will retire after the 2016 NASCAR season, he told the media Wednesday afternoon. He assured everyone that next year wouldn’t be a “ride around year” with mediocre finishes. Will he be able to say the same thing about the final eight races? There’s no doubt that this announcement took a heavy weight off his shoulders. He needs every ounce of mental focus to resurrect this year, and getting the news out could help. However, with Harvick’s struggles and Kurt Busch also vying for a championship, the emphasis in the shop will be on the No. 4 and No. 41. I don’t expect Stewart to immediately knock out wins. There might be some better results ahead.

Speaking of restarts, can we get rid of that stupid box? I don’t get angry at NASCAR a lot, and that’s because they do a lot of things right—and because I’m a very calm person. On the other hand, when the sport does something confusing or idiotic, that’s when I get mad. This is one of those times. Brad Keselowski was penalized during last Sunday’s race for accelerating within the restart box before leader Greg Biffle took off. He was black flagged and required to pass-through pit road. This derailed his chances at winning and set him back a bit in the points. This is exactly why this concept is dumb; it’s another factor that could necessarily mess up the Chase. Some may think it will add excitement when it will actually add backlash. There are two problems with this. One, NASCAR is already being inconsistent with their calls. Jeff Gordon’s controversial restart at Chicagoland was quite similar to Keselowski’s, yet the No. 24 didn’t get penalized. NASCAR used the Team Penske driver to set the standard, I get that. But this is the Chase, the championship-deciding stretch of races. You’re going to use this as the opportunity to mess with the standard? That makes no sense to me. The other half of this is that the restart box is plain dumb. It just is. On any given weekend, smaller series across the country have restarts that go on the green flag. You’re telling me drivers in the top-tier of NASCAR can’t handle that responsibility? Dover announced Thursday they track expanded the restart box, and the other Chase tracks will most likely follow suit. That’s great, but that won’t really solve anything. Either start with the flag, or go back to single-file restarts. Those are the only options that fixes this problem.