Friday, April 15, 2016

Greatness: Five Questions for Bristol

(Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
We have a crazy one ahead of us, folks.

NASCAR travels to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend, the site of carnage and anger. The weather will be gorgeous, the cars will be fast, and the end will be unimaginable until the very end.

As Thunder Valley takes center stage, I’m inquiring about multiple things this week. The caution clock. Heat races. Kyle Busch. Intrigued yet? Dive on in as I pose Five Questions for Bristol.

Will the caution clock expand to the other series in 2017? In a tweet this week, NASCAR on FOX broadcaster Mike Joy addressed the caution clock’s purpose in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – to develop and eventually move into the other series. Many thought this when the concept was originally announced, but will the expansion happen as soon as next season? Most likely not; the idea needs some tweaking before it heads into the NASCAR XFINITY and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The biggest obstacle is that fans dislike it and believe it to be “gimmicky.” However, that’s probably impossible to overcome due to the fact this fan base is particularly stubborn. With Joy’s tweet hinting that the sanctioning body is discussing the caution clock in XFINITY and Sprint Cup, this is the time for fans to keep voicing their opinions – but in a civilized way. That means not tweeting swear words to Steve O’Donnell. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t work. However, if we do see this next season, it will most likely thrive in NXS and not have much effect in Sprint Cup.

Will heat races jazz up NXS’s Dash 4 Cash program? Speaking of the XFINITY Series, its Dash 4 Cash program comes back this weekend – with a thrilling revamp. Heat races will set the field for the Dash 4 Cash races. The two 50-lap shootouts are exciting, but there’s another twist to the contest’s rules. If an XFINITY regular wins two Dash 4 Cash bonuses, the driver is automatically locked into the Chase. These elements are a monsoon in the middle of XFINITY’s dry spell. With Kyle Busch sucking up wins (and most likely continuing that streak – I’ll talk about that later) and fans unhappy with the level of competition, the Dash 4 Cash will bring XFINITY regulars to the forefront. The heat races will draw more eyes to qualifying and make it a must-see event. NXS needs new life, and this might do the trick. Besides, heat races at Bristol? With no backup cars allowed? Oh my.

Can Elliott build off his Texas top five? The race at Texas Motor Speedway had some memorable moments, and the finishing order was one of them. Chase Elliott secured his first top-five finish of his NSCS career, crossing the finish line in fifth. This puts his 2016 stats at one top five and four top 10s. Pretty good for a rookie season, right? Not in Elliott’s eyes. After his impressive run, he said it wasn’t enough and that he has his eyes set on a win. Although that’s an ambitious goal, it isn’t out of the question. Hendrick Motorsports is finally finding their footing as an organization this year, and Elliott’s equipment is top-notch. How he handles Bristol will prove if Texas provided the boost he and the No. 24 team needed. He hasn’t raced at Thunder Valley in a Cup car, but his NXS stats are promising; Elliott finished in the top 10 in all four starts, including one top five. With his quick adjustment to HMS, strong Texas finish and XFINTIY Bristol stats, it looks like Elliott will keep the momentum rolling and inch closer to victory lane.

What’s the deal with Team Penske? This time last year, we were focused on Team Penske after Joey Logano won the Daytona 500 and teammate Brad Keselowski found victory at Auto Club Speedway. With Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing grabbing all the glory, other teams have dropped into the background. No team has fallen farther than Penske; Logano hasn’t won yet this season, and Keselowski has grown quiet since his win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The two are still competitive, but there’s no denying they’re somewhat behind. However, it’s nothing to worry about; as previously mentioned, HMS is getting all four cars in top-10 shape. It's still early in the season, and the Penske teams have time to get all their ducks in a row. Last year’s success has increased this year’s expectations, so that’s why they’re under scrutiny. It is only a matter of time until the Ford organization gets back into the spotlight.

Is Busch one of the greatest ever? The sky is blue, water is wet, and Kyle Busch is on fire. The reigning Sprint Cup champion has won the last four NASCAR events, which translates to two NSCS wins and a victory in NXS and NCWTS. That’s impressive. This time last year, he had a broken leg and foot, which makes those wins really impressive. Now, the sport heads to Bristol, where Busch has swept the weekend before. Does he do it again? It’s hard to say, “No,” so I won’t. The truth is this – Kyle Busch is one of the greatest drivers to ever race. Yes, really. He can win in any vehicle he sits in, and not many drivers can do that. He is a guaranteed NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee. We can argue all day about him running XFINITY and trucks and if it means anything. We can argue about comparing him to Richard Petty and hitting the 200 milestone. None of that matters. Here, in this moment, we are witnessing greatness. Busch will go win both races this weekend and not care who whines about it. His momentum is unstoppable right now, and it will take a serious miscue to derail it. Busch’s desire to win burns hotter than fans’ hatred, and that makes him even greater. You can gripe about him dominating the XFINITY Series, or the way he races, or his attitude or any other issues you can find. Those are all moot points once he straps into a racecar and does what he was born to do. This is greatness in motion, and I’ve decided to take it in while I can. I hope you do, too.

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