Friday, July 7, 2017

Moves in a New Era: Five Questions for Kentucky

(Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
Things are getting a bit silly in NASCAR, and it will only get crazier.

Today threw everyone for a loop and sparked a ton of conversation about who will be going where next season. Much of the talk centered around one Hendrick Motorsports driver until today, when the fate of the No. 88 seat became a bit more clear.

Or did it?

As we come off the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and get ready for the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series events, we have some new questions to ponder. Let's unravel these five inquiries, shall we?

Is dirt track racing the move? A resurgence in drivers participating in local dirt track events is underway, and it's paying off for a couple of recent winners. A lot of the more experienced drivers on the circuit got their start on dirt, and seeing them at the venue down the road from your house was quite common. That changed a bit when a few incidents occurred; Tony Stewart's sprint car injuries and that night in New York were huge turning points. After that, NASCAR teams weren't as inclined to allow their contracted drivers to go out and race. Owner Chip Ganassi is different, allowing Kyle Larson to keep racing sprint cars. This has paid off on both sides of the sport, with Larson winning various dirt races and then transferring that success to MENCS competition. Last night's NCWTS winner, Christopher Bell, is another example. After his comeback win at Kentucky, he packed up and started driving to Attica Raceway Park in Attica, Ohio--which is also my home track--for an event tonight. These drivers are showing that slinging dirt in their spare time is worth it.

Will Byron get better with time? Something happened this morning that is quite interesting in the grand scheme of things. We'll start with the NXS implications and touch on the bigger stuff first. Ever since Dale Earnhardt, Jr. announced his retirement, people pegged William Byron as the most likely successor in the No. 88. The only caveat is his lack of NASCAR experience--he just entered Xfinity this season, which is where my later question comes in, but we should focus on this for a second. Byron is good. Dang good. Two wins in a row, and he's going for three consecutive victories tonight. This is a hot streak that's easy to pass off as just that, but we shouldn't. Byron is picking up on this stuff fast, which is why he's in the Silly Season conversation on the Cup side. This is when we have to wonder if a jump to the top tier would be feasible and/or successful, or if another year in Xfinity would be beneficial. I'm always a fan of spending more time to nail down the craft--and possibly grab a championship. It's easy to understand the pressure to move up. After all, it worked for Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, for example. So, it's all about weighing the options--and I'll continue to do that in a little bit.

Can McDowell back up Daytona with a solid finish at Kentucky? We need to talk about Michael McDowell and his talent. Everyone was thrilled when he and Leavine Family Racing captured a fourth-place finish at Daytona International Speedway. It's the first top-five in his NASCAR Cup career, which doesn't reflect his overall skill set. McDowell does a phenomenal job with a team that doesn't have money to burn. He brings equipment home and is a consistent presence in the top-15/top-20 range. He has an NXS win for Joe Gibbs Racing, proving that he's a winner in solid equipment. With all this in mind, I wouldn't doubt it if we saw McDowell crank out a top-10 on Saturday night; momentum will help lead this team to a good finish.

Where will Kenseth land in 2018? This morning provided some Silly Season insight for us to chew on. In a press conference, Matt Kenseth revealed that he and JGR won't reach an agreement for the 2018 season. Of the places he could possibly go, the No. 88 seat is a much-talked option. The current consensus among fans and others says Kenseth moves to the No. 88, and Jones jumps into the No. 20. This makes sense because of Byron. If he stays in Xfinity for another year, he can drive the No. 88 in 2019. Where Kenseth goes after that is unknown. That's a rough idea of what may happen, but there are a lot of moves left to be made in Silly Season. The other side of this particular coin is the idea of Kenseth not having a ride. The former champion has always been competitive and raced in a fierce yet knowledgeable way. His plans shouldn't be up in the air whatsoever--but that's the new era of NASCAR in which we live. We'll see how this plays out over the next month or so.

Why isn't this column a short, yet engaging video? I was swamped last week, hence the lack of a Five Questions for Daytona. However, the lovely Stephanie Stuart-Landrey brought all the sass needed in her opinion of the disappearing written word. She knocked it out of the park and received well-deserved praise from many, including Dave Moody. She summarized my thoughts, as well as the thoughts of many, eloquently. Digital media is a fickle beast. Trust me, someone whose first "news stories" were composed on an electronic typewriter and hung on the refrigerator. My generation grew up with limited access to the internet, and now it's right in our pocket all hours of the day. FOX Sports' shift to all video web content is idiotic. Trust me, a part-time digital producer at a television station. Video is crucial and important, but it cannot and should not displace the written word. It cannot function like the written word and never will. People enjoy reading content that matters and adds more to a story. Words and video should supplement each other, not replace each other--but that's the way the new era of media works or wants to work. I think Stephanie said that in much better terms than I did, further proving that this website is full of amazing writers. I'm thankful to work alongside them.

1 comments :