Friday, November 11, 2016

Reflections: Five Questions for Phoenix

(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
What an uneventful week in the neighborhood, right?

There are a lot of storylines surrounding this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway – because it’s the cutoff. Yes, the Camping World Truck, Xfinity, and Sprint Cup Series will determine their championship 4. This season has led up to fierce battles in all three tiers.

Although many use sports as an escape from, say, very stressful times, we have to remember it is a microcosm of society; sports tend to reflect what’s going on in the world. But not NASCAR, right?

This week’s edition of Five Question touches on youth piling in, expectations, and feeling torn. Let’s see what I can get into this time.

Can you keep up with the CWTS debuts? There is a plethora of new talent riding into the CWTS, and many drivers are making their series debut this coming weekend. Here are just some of the names attempting the race: Myatt Snider, Domonique Van Wieringen, and Noah Gragson. That’s a lot of young talent right there. So, why is there a sudden influx of debuts? It’s mostly about experience and publicity; Gragson, for example, will race for Kyle Busch Motorsports next season, and racing at Phoenix will get his feet wet and introduce people to this fresh face. On the other hand, drivers like Van Wieringen need offers for 2017. The K&N Pro Series East driver wants to advance her career, and her Phoenix start is an attempt to catch some eyes. This happens every year around this time and allows us to see who is trying to break through.

Which Xfinity driver prevails, Allgaier or Koch? Chase cutoffs are here once again, and the tension surrounding this weekend’s Xfinity race is palpable. Justin Allgaier is one point out of the championship 4, while Blake Koch holds that final spot. When you think about who has the advantage here, many will give it to the JR Motorsports driver. Allgaier’s 2016 performance is impressive yet lacks wins. Whenever he and the No. 7 team would get close, something would come up. That could very well happen this weekend, during a crucial race Allgaier circled on his calendar at the start of the season. As amazing as he’s been, Koch holding up throughout the Chase is a miracle. Kaulig Racing didn’t even exist before this January; this was a stab in the dark that ended up striking gold. No matter what happens, Koch is a winner with his 2016 performance, and Allgaier should be proud as well.

How will Biffle fare after 500th start? Who’s ready to feel old? Greg Biffle will make his 500th Sprint Cup start this weekend, a milestone worth celebrating. When a driver has been around this long, you subconsciously think about their career and where it’s going – if it’s going anywhere at all. Biffle’s season is less than ideal, and Roush Fenway Racing is struggling. This weekend will be no different. The rumor mill has spun his name around, placing him in a second car at JTG-Daugherty Racing – and that could be the best move for Biffle. Since his first start with RFR 14 years ago, he hasn’t competed full-time for another organization. A change of scenery could help.

Will Harvick do what is expected of him? Everyone will act optimistic, but many of us think we know Sunday’s eventual winner. The Prince of Phoenix, Kevin Harvick, is the one to beat this weekend, and for good reason; the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has eight victories at the track, with six wins coming since the track’s November 2012 event. His win percentage at PIR is almost 30-percent, giving him the upper hand. However, he heads there with an asterisk next to his name. The 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion is seventh on the Chase Grid, three spots out of the championship 4. It’s a precarious scenario he hasn’t experienced before, so how will he handle it? I’m pretty sure no one thinks Harvick will choke. He’s ‘The Closer,’ after all. Since it is the cutoff, however, anything can really happen. I think Harvick give a strong performance, but I’m not sold on giving him the trophy just yet.

When will they get it right? The state of NASCAR has me torn at the moment, and I’ve given a lot of thought about how it can be repaired or if it actually needs repairing. There have been many instances of mistake this season, but one recently stood out. During the race at Martinsville Speedway, there was a 29-lap caution to clean up oil. Fans were displeased with the wasted laps, and NASCAR said they would handle the situation better in the future. I’m not sure why this sticks in my mind, but it does. It’s still relevant because NASCAR is still struggling to find a title sponsor for 2017; instances like at Martinsville make it difficult to sell the sport. It worries me a bit, and I’ve noticed others getting nervous. At this point, it’s out of our control, and all the NASCAR industry can do is come together in times of uncertainty. This issue – must like the other issues encountered in the past – will be addressed and remedied in time. It might take a while, but things will get better. If only this situation had a modern, possibly politics-related equivalent.


It’s going to be okay, folks.

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