Friday, May 5, 2017

It is Time: Five Questions for Talladega

Talladega Superspeedway. Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
As NASCAR heads to Talladega, the word on everyone's lips is "encumbered."

The new terminology begs the question: is it time for NASCAR to take away a race win when the resulting penalty leaves the victory hollow?

That's not all we have to talk about. Richmond's dwindling attendance has everyone buzzing. Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to one of his best tracks one week after his retirement announcement. And two Xfinity drivers look to make waves at Talladega.

Let's dig into this week's Five Questions.

What’s with Wallace’s consistency? The sixes have it; Darrell Wallace Jr. racked up six sixth-place finishes in the first eight Xfinity races of 2017. The Roush Fenway Racing driver is killing it at the numbers game. Want to take it a step further? The other two results were both 33rd-place finishes that resulted from crashes. This is a great sign for Wallace, who’s had a few rough seasons recently. This leads to two realizations. One, it’s just great to see him succeeding; Wallace’s personality makes him likable, and now he has the results to draw in even more attention. Two, we don’t give him the credit he deserves. The kid knows how to wheel a dang racecar. Remember his Camping World Truck Series stats? I’m not shocked by his consistency – I’m surprised we all forgot how good he can be. Even if the streak doesn’t survive Talladega, his season has been off to an impressive start.

Can Reed rebound at his best (type of) track? Let me start this with a fact: Ryan Reed locked into the NXS playoffs with his Daytona victory. That’s become his new M.O., right? Well, the last two races haven’t been so good; 38th and 23rd at Bristol and Richmond aren’t necessarily bragging points. However, there’s always this week – and it’s at the only other restrictor plate track on the schedule. That’s the only quality these tracks have in common, so Reed will have to work hard for a strong run. Work really, really hard; he hasn’t finished in the top-20 in his three visits to Alabama. A win under his belt means his team can experiment and push the envelope a bit more. RFR’s program can handle it. Let’s see if Reed can improve his stats at the other restrictor plate track.

Will Earnhardt Jr. rebound at Dega? It’s one week post-announcement, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final season hasn’t improved. He earned his fifth finish of 30th or worse this past weekend, making his average finish a whopping 24.4. In case you think it’s all downhill until he hangs it up, you’re sadly mistaken. Now, there’s no hiding the fact the No. 88 team has a lot of work to do – but this is the place to get back on track. Earnhardt’s stats at Talladega are phenomenal; six wins, 12 top-fives, and 16 top-10s. Of course, that doesn’t mean much if the team can’t jive. A lot of unique factors come into play at Dega, and Earnhardt is great at exploiting them. My gut’s opinion is Junior will run strong this weekend but finish in the top-15. With the way his 2017 is going, that’s a good run.  

Does anyone around here have a dictionary? If you decided to make a drinking game out of the repeated use of "encumbered," well, you’re probably still passed out and not reading this column. Thursday is the new penalty day, and NASCAR slammed Joey Logano and the No. 22 team with a harsh punishment. Not only did he lose 25 points, $50,000, and his crew chief for two races, but he also lost the ability to use the win in the playoffs. In summary, the win is now useless. So … why not take the actual win away? What is the point of letting the win carcass stay if there’s nothing of value inside? NASCAR’s defense is that fans should know who wins when they leave the track, but that is quite outdated. With modern technology, it’s easy to find out who inherits a win when the victor is disqualified. Also, the term "encumbered" doesn’t mean what they think it means. Just take the dang win away. It is time.

How can we fix the attendance dilemma? In case you missed it, the crowd this past weekend sucked. This spurred response from everyone, fans and media alike. They’re all trying to answer the question I just posed. How do you fix any problem, though? That’s right; you address the causes – which is a difficult thing to do since there are numerous possible causes. The ever-changing penalty system, the implementation of stages, or shifting the race to the daytime? Take your pick. A big contributor is most likely cost, something tracks don’t have much power to change (like hotel costs). At the end of the day, fans are prioritizing other things above racing. All we can do is make NASCAR something worth penciling into their budget. 

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