Friday, May 26, 2017

When the Sun goes Down: Five Questions for Charlotte

 (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

It’s Homecoming Week, but not the kind with braces and awkward dancing at arms’ length.

No, this is when the sport returns to Charlotte Motor Speedway and celebrates Memorial Day, a holiday near and dear to the hearts of many. NASCAR’s military appreciation is unrivaled, with patriotic schemes and themes abundant. We honor those who serve our country, and we thank them.

This race is a crown jewel, a sport staple, one of the greatest races we have—but does it still live up to all we’ve praised it to be?

I contemplate this, along with recent schedule changes and the sport's evolution, in this week’s column. Let’s get down to business.

Time for “change”—is that the right term? It’s that time of year again when the schedules for next season are released and everyone screams a lot. Wash, rinse, repeat, because the changes to the 2018 roster look quite interesting. Pro: we finally have a road course in the playoffs! Con: it’s the Charlotte roval, which doesn’t quench the thirst of Watkins Glen International, Road America, and Sonoma Raceway lovers. The Brickyard 400 will now close out the regular season, which is different—but is that really a “good” different? Basically, NASCAR put the existing tracks into a hat and shook them up. The only problem is that only a few names had movement. But hey, let’s see how it goes!

The latest Hall of Fame class—yay or nay? Coming home to Charlotte means a lot to the sport, and it also signals one of the biggest days of the year. Industry members voted for the next NASCAR Hall of Fame class and chose Ken Squier, Ray Evernham, Robert Yates, Ron Hornaday, and Red Byron for the 2018 induction. There tends to be a debate about these results, but the opinions seemed particularly abundant this time around. This is most likely due to Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki being on the ballot for the first time and not immediately making the group of five. When we look closer, people debated Hornaday’s inclusion and compared his status and impact to Allison and Kulwicki. My thoughts? We tend to forget that NASCAR is more than the highest level, which is a disservice to others not at the top tier. Hornaday’s contributions to the sport matter, and suggesting he isn’t worthy of this nomination is simply rude. I approve of this class and can’t wait to see who gets in next year.

What can we take away from the RHR news? It was a dismal Monday in the motorsports world, with one of the blows coming from the Camping World Truck Series. Red Horse Racing closed their doors this week due to lack of funding. They're actively looking for sponsors but will cease operations until they get the situation straightened out. This is heartbreaking for many reasons, but RHR's long-term presence in the sport makes it hurt worse. What this says to me is, despite things going decently at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level, we can't forget about the teams in others series that aren't affiliated with larger organizations. Remember the ThorSport Racing fire last summer? That made everyone realize how successful ThorSport was without outside support. That's what RHR's news does for me, remind me that their drivers, especially Timothy Peters, always found their way to the top five and established dominance with the odds stacked against them. Wishing everyone at Red Horse Racing the best as they figure out what happens next.

Will current drivers commentating the Xfinity race hype up Pocono? Fox is doing some interesting things to keep fans entertained, but this recent announcement takes the cake. The entire Fox crew—play-by-play, pre-race hosts, and pit reporters—will be replaced by current drivers. That’s a twist. Part of me thinks this will be an utter disaster with “too many cooks.” However, they can provide relevant insight that relates to the current era of Xfinity. It’s a concept that caught my eye, and it’s so out there that I want it to work. I can’t believe I’m saying that I’m excited for the Pocono Xfinity race—and that’s the entire point.

Can the Coke 600 wash the awful All-Star taste out of our mouths? I'll give you my short answer: no. The Monster Energy Open was some of the greatest racing we've seen in a while, but the "feature" race didn't ride the momentum. If you're hoping to see some fantastic racing that will restore your interest, well...good luck. The fact of the matter is, Charlotte Motor Speedway provides better racing during the day. The industry understands that as well; see the time change for the October race. Everyone calls the upcoming Sunday "The Greatest Day in Racing," with Monaco, the Indy 500, and the Coke 600 jam-packing race fans' days. However, if you compare the three races to each other, it's quite obvious which one loses out. Now, there's a chance (read: high probability) my prediction is wrong, and the race is full of rubbing and battling and three-wide stage finishes. At the urging of my gut feeling, though, most of the action will take place at the beginning -- when the sun is still out. 

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