Friday, May 13, 2016

Ripping Out the Sutures: Five Questions for Dover

(Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Miles the Monster is hungry – and NASCAR is about to satisfy his appetite.

We had an interesting weekend at Kansas Speedway, full of wrecks, heartbreak and misinterpretation of rules. It made for a lot of talk this week, and that makes for some in-depth questions!

As we head to the one-mile oval, I raising questions about night racing, Ben Rhodes/Johnny Sauter, Martin Truex Jr. and more in this edition of Five Questions.

Do we need less night racing? Over time, our favorite things lose their luster. Has that happened to night races? After the events at Kansas Speedway, many fans were torn about the racing product. Some were impressed while others felt there was much to be desired. Jeff Gluck’s official post-race poll had fans split on if it was a good race. This led to the question I’m posing – are some tracks just not suited for races under the lights? I think so, and Kansas is one of them. Some venues’ surfaces aren’t better at night. Previous night races at Kansas have been decent, but their day-time events stand out in my mind. Only three races – the Coca Cola 600, the July race at Daytona International Speedway, and the Southern 500 – deserve to be under the lights, and we should revert to that. It’s unlikely to happen soon. However, it’s something for NASCAR to consider.

Does Rhodes need to apologize? On the other hand, the CWTS had a heck of a race at Kansas. A plethora of cautions brought it down to three final laps where William Byron was winning, then lost, but then actually won. Part of the drama was provided by Ben Rhodes and Johnny Sauter; the two dueled coming to the checkered flag, and Rhodes used his front-end to move his opponent – but wrecked both of them instead. Sauter was quite upset afterward and has since apologized for his comments. The entire incident begs the question: should the young driver say, “Sorry” to the veteran? While it might be a sign of respect, an apology shouldn’t be required. Sauter would have pulled the same move – and that’s a well-known fact. Rhodes might have made a rash decision, but he wanted to win. This is racing. Sauter took back his words, and Rhodes is in the clear. Hopefully, this doesn’t discourage him from taking those risks once again.

Can Poole bounce back after heartbreaking runner-up finish? The XFINITY Series is back after an off-weekend – but the last race is fresh in everyone’s minds. After a wreck on the last lap at Talladega Superspeedway, Chip Ganassi Racing driver Brennan Poole though he won his first XFINITY race after leading the field across the finish line. The excitement soon turned into shock when NASCAR officially crowned Elliott Sadler – who was first when the caution came out – the victor. Although some controversy surrounded the results, that was two weeks ago. Can Poole focus on Dover and impress the new eyes following him? He finished 12th in his first Dover XFINITY start last season. With three total top 10s in 2016, Poole and his No. 48 team have made major improvements in his first full-time season. A top 15 in his first start at the “Monster Mile” and his growth bode well for Saturday.

When will it be Truex’s time to shine? It was another disappointing weekend for Martin Truex Jr., who had the race at Kansas won before a loose wheel derailed his momentum. This is not the first time this has happened to the driver of the No. 78 this season; he lost the Daytona 500 by less than a nose, and the race at Texas Motor Speedway was nearly his. His first series victory came at the track we’re visiting this weekend – but can the stars align to put him in Dover victory lane once again? Well, he’s got the horsepower; Joe Gibbs Racing is undoubtedly the best team at the moment, and Furniture Row Racing’s alliance with them is a huge factor in the No. 78’s performance. I want to say this weekend will be good to him – but I’m not willing to bet my life on it. Truex has bad luck, and it tends to strike that the worst times. He has both the horsepower and the driving ability to overcome it. If it doesn’t happen this weekend, Pocono Raceway – where he claimed the victory last season – is the next best bet.

Is the lug nut issue about to get even bigger? This week brought the first lug nut violation since the new rule was implemented – and the penalties went to the Kansas winner. Kyle Busch has all five lug nuts “on” when he went to victory lane, yet only four were actually secured. The consequences? Crew chief Adam Stevens and the front tire changer were both suspended for one race, with Stevens paying a $20,000 fine. Basically a slap on the wrist, right? Look, I applaud NASCAR for enforcing the rule. Other crew chiefs are adamant that lug nuts come loose during competition and that every team will get penalized at some point during the season. If that’s the case, then there’s trouble a-foot. There’s going to be a rift between the sanctioning body and the drivers/teams/crews after we’ve been working to close it. This will rip the sutures out. This also shows that teams will start going back to the four lug nut trick. If the penalty is only a monetary fine and a one-race suspension, they will take the risk. NASCAR needs to hand down harsher punishment if they want to nip this in the bud. 

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