Friday, June 16, 2017

Silliness: Five Questions for Michigan and Gateway

(Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Irish Hills of Michigan!!

Good, now that we got that phrase out of the way, we can get to the real questions.

After trips to Pennsylvania and Texas, the top three tiers of NASCAR split up yet again. Racing infiltrates Michigan and Illinois, bringing inquiries along with it. We’re talking silly season and smaller fields this week in Five Questions. Let’s get to it.

Do smaller fields spell trouble? As of Friday morning, 37 cars are scheduled to run the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan—which is weird. I remember the days when 43 cars ran every race, and some teams would go home due to limited spots. I can’t help but feel this is a sign of the times, and those times must change. The cost of racing in NASCAR has severely increased over the last decade, making it difficult for teams and sponsors to keep their contracts alive. I could talk about this for hours, but it all boils down to sustainability. This current arrangement doesn’t have that, and these rising costs will make the bubble burst at some point. I think Jeffrey Earnhardt’s Hulu sponsorship is a sign of companies adapting, but it all depends on the ROI. Is that something NASCAR can give them and is it enough to justify the expense? Time will tell.

Is Truex finding his rhythm in CWTS? Have we talked about the Camping World Truck Series lately? No? Well, let’s change that. The series heads to Gateway Motorsports Park this weekend, riding solo. Looking at the season thus far, one driver stands out—Ryan Truex, who has earned two top-fives and five top-10s. Truex has had a twisted path to success, much like his older brother did before everything clicked in recent years. That makes it nice to see the strong finishes. It seems like he and Hattori are the perfect match. He’s on track to eclipse the results of the team’s former Truck drivers. Heck, maybe he can clinch a win. Truex has found a spot for himself—and the greatest part is, it’s a competitive one.

Has Custer nailed this whole Xfinity thing? It’s hard to pay attention to the NASCAR Xfinity Series with all the Cup regulars winning the races. However, some Xfinity drivers are cutting through the noise—with one of those being Cole Custer. He knocked out three consecutive top-10s this past month, peaking at Texas Motor Speedway with a fourth-place finish. You may expect this from Custer, who impressed last season in his CWTS ride, but this is Stewart-Haas Racing’s first year in NXS. To be fair, the team had a rough start, but it’s leveled off as of late. Custer is adjusting to the stock car style, and I see him becoming a weekly contender by the end of this season.

How many championships are ahead for the No. 48 team? Silly Season is finally here, and it starts with a not-so-silly re-up. Jimmie Johnson’s contract with Hendrick Motorsports now extends through 2020, to the disappointment of the competition. He and Chad Knaus will team up for three more seasons of butt-kicking. Or at least one, since Knaus' contract still has one year on it, but seriously, can you imagine anyone else on that pit box? Will the extension result in more championships? It’s hard to imagine the duo not setting the championship record and claiming an eighth. This new deal almost guarantees Johnson will crack 100 wins. Although the competition may seethe at this development, it allows the rest of us to enjoy this legend for at least a few more years.


Will Blaney’s success lead to even bigger moves? You may think this is a stretch, but it’s already underway. Friday morning brought rumors that Blaney and Paul Menard may be on the move, with Motorsport.com’s Lee Spencer hearing garage rumblings. This suggests Blaney will join Team Penske as they expand into a three-car operation, with Menard going over to the Wood Brothers. This makes sense in my mind; Blaney has a strong relationship with the Penske camp, especially with its two current drivers. Blaney would excel there and develop his talent with two strong mentors. The way Blaney understands this sport and supports WBR is admirable—but it also shows that he’s a smart cookie. Penske saw that early on, and it is now time to snatch him up. Of course, this can all change before the end of the season. Life’s silly like that.

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