Friday, July 8, 2016

A Lot to Offer: Five Questions for Kentucky

Kentucky Speedway. Credit: Sarah Crabill / Getty Images

Compared to last week, this batch of races should be calm and relaxing, right?

Uh, no.

Kentucky Speedway is the epicenter of all things NASCAR this weekend, with all three national touring series running night races. We could typically expect some fierce racing from this Bluegrass venue, but there’s a twist – new pavement.

A shiny surface holds a lot of uncertainties for drivers, and that will be on their minds as they do battle under the lights. I touch upon this topic, as well as Darrell Wallace Jr.’s fine, the resurrection of Roush Fenway Racing, and much more in today’s edition of Five Questions.

How will the new surface affect the quality of racing? The biggest headline this week is Kentucky’s new pavement. If you’re wondering how it will race, you aren’t the only one; drivers across all three series are pretty lost this weekend. However, it’s easy to predict how it will work out. Freshly paved tracks tend to be quicker and hold more grip. For the Camping World Truck and Xfinity Series, this track will produce some fantastic racing; the two lower levels will jive with the track and have that mild chaos we all enjoy. The Sprint Cup Series is in a different boat. As seen during the first half of the year, the 2016 aero package doesn’t work well with night racing. The colder temperatures equal more grip, which equals more driver control. Add that to the brand-spankin’-new asphalt, and you have grip galore. Unless Goodyear brought a tire with a lot of fall off, it looks like Saturday night will be an episode of “follow the leader.” That’s the price you pay with new pavement.

Did Wallace’s tweet deserve a fine? By now, you have probably heard about Darrell Wallace Jr.’s $15,000 fine for his tweet last Friday night. He basically called NASCAR officials “Muppets” after the controversial finish at Daytona International Speedway. Did his criticism require punishment? Technically, yes. This violated a section of the NASCAR rulebook that was added at the beginning of the year, which calls for penalties if someone “disparages the sport of NASCAR’s leadership.” So yeah, he broke the rules. The biggest issue here is that the rule actually exists and blatantly says drivers aren’t allowed to criticize the sanctioning body. If drivers aren’t allowed to express opinions, this sport is going to get dull fast. This rule stifles the thoughts and personalities of the athletes. NASCAR doesn’t want negativity floating around, but instances like this simply foster negativity in the minds of fans – and they’ll tweet about it until the cows come home.

Will Sieg keep drawing more eyes to RSS Racing? When the Xfinity Series race ended last weekend, an unfamiliar name controlled the third slot on the leaderboard. For those who don’t have much background on Ryan Sieg, he races for RSS Racing, a small organization run by his family. They operate out of Tucker, Georgia and have about five full-time employees. His third-place finish at Daytona is almost equivalent to a victory for the small team. This compliments Sieg’s recent top 15s very well and gives him a lot of momentum. Even if he can’t replicate his Daytona result, people should keep their eye on RSS Racing. That small team has a lot of heart – and it’s starting to fuel even better runs.

Is Earnhardt Jr. running out of chances? The Chase is lurking around the corner, and the top 16 is a mixed bag at the moment. You have drivers locked in on both wins and consistency. Somewhere in the middle is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who lacks both qualities; he is the only 2015 winner to not visit victory lane this season, and he and the No. 88 team have no rhythm. His uncharacteristically lackluster Daytona performance confused and concerned many. Will he be able to get a victory and lock himself into the playoffs? This string of tracks coming up makes that answer unclear; he tends to struggle at some of the upcoming venues. Daytona was his best chance at securing his spot. This raises another question: will he fall out of the top 16? It’s a possibility, but it is also unlikely. This Hendrick Motorsports team will give 150 percent throughout the rest of the regular season. As long as they can fend off those beneath Earnhardt, Jr. in the standings, they should be good. This is a position Earnhardt, Jr. hasn’t been in for a while – so let’s hope he can adjust his sails accordingly.

Will Roush Fenway’s progress continue? There’s a promising spike on Roush Fenway Racing’s heart monitor. A strong performance by all three teams last week is an addition to other highlights; the organization’s short track program is stout, and they’ve pulled some punches on intermediates and restrictor plates. Translation: the Ford team is on the rise. It’s comforting to see after the past few years. With momentum on their side, how will Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne do at Kentucky? All should do well (although that’s not guaranteed with the new pavement), but Biffle will finish the highest; he has the most motivation after winning the pole and racing well last week. As the veteran in the organization, he’s leading the charge. Stenhouse, Jr. is working out some kinks, and Bayne worked Daytona like he did in 2011. This organization still has a lot to offer, and more potential will reveal itself over the next few weeks.


Post a Comment