Friday, July 28, 2017

Opening Doors: Five Questions for Pocono and Iowa

(Jonathan Moore/NASCAR via Getty Images)
When one door opens, one of two things can come in—opportunity or misfortune.

There is a lot going on in the sport right now, from Silly Season shakeups to more questionable decisions involving more than one party. NASCAR is the only sport that packs extremes from each end of the spectrum into a single week. Highs and lows.

Chances and mistakes.

After a week off, I’m filling this week’s Five Questions with schedule talk, analysis of Kahne’s win, and predictions. All with a side order of sass, of course.

Let’s rock.

This is your favorite part of the schedule, right? (Sigh.) All three series are in action this weekend, which is cool. Two of those tiers are at Pocono Raceway, which is something I don’t understand. My big flaw is that Cup comes back to Pocono so soon after the first race. It seems like overkill. The race to watch this weekend will be the NXS guys out in Iowa, that’s for sure. However, that destination isn’t an option for Cup; as much as people say they want the sport’s top series to visit corn country, they’ll never show up. If the stands at Iowa were sold out this weekend, then NASCAR would have a legit reason to consider the venue. There are a bunch of people not putting money where their mouth is, and it’s costing all of us. Racing on the Cup side of things has been pretty good, so let’s see if this weekend follows suit.

Who’s hiding in the weeds? Two familiar names won this past week in both the Camping World Truck and Xfinity Series; Matt Crafton slid his way to victory at Eldora Speedway, a track he loathed when it was added in 2012, and William Byron knocked out another win when he visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Looking at the past few races, however, both series have a silent threat lurking beneath the surface. For NXS, it has to be Cole Custer; in his first full Xfinity season, he’s knocked out three top-fives and eight top-10s—in a ride that didn’t even exist last season. People raised a few eyebrows in 2016, wondering if his CWTS success would transfer well. He has erased any doubt, that’s for sure. Expect him in victory lane sometime this season. On the Truck side, Chase Briscoe is (figuratively) on fire. It’s his rookie season as well, and there is nothing holding him back. His third-place finish at Eldora proves he’s more versatile than a Swiss army knife. He can pull out a win, too. As much as we distract ourselves with the usual suspects, we’ll have to clear victory lane for Custer and Briscoe soon enough.

Is JGR abusing their power? NASCAR has some interesting mid-week breaking news, but this week’s development is downright disturbing. Two Furniture Row Racing pit crew members got in a heated argument with Kyle Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens after the Brickyard 400. The three almost came to blows on pit road—that’s how heated we’re talking. Punishment in some sort was expected, but the result shocked everyone. Joe Gibbs Racing suspended the two crewmen. Yeah, you read that right. See, FFR doesn’t employ their own pit crew. The members are lent to them by JGR, since FRR answers to them. That gives JGR a lot of leverage over one of the sport’s toughest competitors. I agree there should have been punishment for the near-brawl, but it seems wrong that Stevens wasn’t reprimanded for his role in the argument. This opens a door for things to get out of hand fast.

Did the Brickyard victory save Kahne? The No. 5 returning to victory lane is quite a shocker, especially with the surmounting pressure and rumors around its driver’s 2018 plans. Even the morning of the race wasn’t much of a confidence boost for Kahne; in a pre-race press conference concerning Alex Bowman driving the No. 88 next season, owner Rick Hendrick didn’t provide any clarity on the No. 5’s future. Kahne went into that race with that in his head—and managed to win. While the end of the race caused a lot of backlash—albeit warranted backlash—you cannot discredit Kahne’s talent as the laps and sunlight dwindled. While this is a morale-boosting victory for the entire No. 5 camp, it didn’t clear up the team’s Silly Season situation. When prompted with the same question post-race, Hendrick gave the same answer. In the big picture, the Brickyard victory didn’t make Kahne’s 2018 plans any more solid. However, it did help him gain a bit of confidence back. Breaking a long winless streak will do that for a driver, but to do it during a time of overwhelming uncertainty? That’s what you call giving it all you got.


Are we having fun yet? Let’s talk about the end of that race—if you want to call it that. It was so chaotic that it was almost hard to watch. There’s a point where excessive restarts get tiresome—and the setting sun made it nerve-racking. My gut told me something controversial would happen, whether it be sunlight determining the end or another wreck. Well, both happened—kinda. On the final restart, Kahne shot out front, eager to get to the overtime line. Keselowski followed. As they turned onto the backstretch, the TV graphic for the overtime line became apparent. Then, another wreck occurred. Multiple cars spun out, giving the immediate impression that a caution would fly. NASCAR waited…and waited…and waited. Kahne made it to the overtime line, and the caution light came on moments later. It does seem like officials took their time putting out the flag. Their official explanation was they were waiting to see if they needed to send out emergency crews to either help drivers or move wreckage. However, this has not gone over well with fans and media members. Fun stuff. The struggle rests in that phrase ‘the end justifies the means;’ the caution came out at the wrong time, but the fading sunlight almost cancels out the wrongdoing. Almost. NASCAR got lucky with that. It’s caused some to say, “Yeah, they waited to throw it, which is sketchy, but the sun was going down anyway.” However, if we’re okay with it now, we‘re normalizing these missteps—leaving room for errors the sport can’t afford.

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