Friday, March 24, 2017

Clarity: Five Questions for Auto Club


By Kristen Schneider

NASCAR invades SoCal this weekend, and it’s hard to believe we’re nearly one-sixth of the way through the season. This sliver of the schedule provided a lot of talking points thus far – and it didn’t slow down this week. However, with all these storylines, it’s difficult to look at everything with a clear head.

That’s what I’ll try to do with this week’s column. In this edition of Five Questions, I talk about Indianapolis (again), the state of the Xfinity Series (again), and more happenings as we look ahead to Auto Club Speedway.

Will Indianapolis’ other crazy idea work? Let’s talk about Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s latest attempt to ramping up action. The NXS race will feature restrictor plates, which doesn’t make much sense. IMS is flat, and the lack of flatness at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway make the plate necessary. Also, I’m about 85 percent certain the physics of this doesn’t hold up. But don’t count on me – I cringe every time I think about high school physics class. However, this idea isn’t completely bad; it shows the sport recognizes how lackluster the NXS racing is at the historic track. I’m all for trying something new, but whenever someone complains about the Xfinity race’s performance at IMS, all I think about is the perfectly good track that’s just a hop and a skip away. That a whole other article, so I’ll leave that thought at that. All in all, it’s a bizarre idea that we’ll have to wait to judge.

Has Xfinity achieved the ultimate Dash 4 Cash structure? In case you forgot, Justin Allgaier won the Dash 4 Cash race at Phoenix International Raceway. That’s right, a series regular won! It was an insane finish, and many people focused on Dillon/Custer more than Allgaier – as well as team owner Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s tweet about Jeff Gluck’s hat after the race. So, if we look at the race overall, what is the impression? It’s a great start – but Cup drivers are still present. Any driver that’s raced in Cup five years or fewer is eligible to compete in D4C races, and they were out in full force last week – even influencing race outcomes and such. I’m not completely sold on the format, but I’ll wait until the next D4C event and see who wins that one.

With his 600th start this weekend, is Earnhardt Jr. set to turn it around? Where the heck did the time go? Dale Jr. makes his 600th Cup start this weekend, and we all feel old and nostalgic. Sigh. This season – all four races of it – isn’t going well for the No. 88 team. They’re qualifying well, but the mid-race progression slides the wrong way. Despite this, Junior is confident in his team – and that’s a big part of making the dynamics work. The old Dale Jr. would’ve given up on his crew already. The change in his demeanor is still awe-inspiring. With that attitude and the fact teammates Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott are doing well, it’s only a matter of time before Dale Jr. and the No. 88 group get it together.

The Notorious YRB is finally getting recognition – will he seal the deal? young Ryan Blaney came into his own quickly, and the entire sport can’t handle it. The No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford keeps breaking up the regular top-10 group, inserting the single-car operation into the conversation every weekend. Blaney’s talent impressed people before, but now the equipment caught up. Young Ryan Blaney doesn’t drive like a youngster; the 23-year-old wheels it like a veteran and inches closer to a win every time he hits the track. Like Kyle Larson last year, Blaney will grab that first win soon enough and justify all the attention.

A lack of penalties – a sign of confusion or restraint? So, after the Kyle Busch/Joey Logano fight, NASCAR clarified a few boundaries the two drivers didn’t cross. The sentiment was simple – because they didn’t use their cars as weapons, they weren't punished. Well, we got a taste of what that's like: After a wreck late in the Xfinity event, Cole Custer and Austin Dillon shared a moment under caution. Dillon waited for Custer as the field slowed, and he pushed Custer’s car into the wall. However, this warranted no penalties as previously suggested. Is this a good move? To be honest, I see the logic behind it. The big concern is using the racecar as a weapon, and Dillon used his in the loosest sense of the word. It was a nudge that pushed Custer into the wall under caution. That doesn’t strike me as warranting a large penalty. Despite this, NASCAR should have handed down something because they made a big deal about clarifying that line.

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