Saturday, May 5, 2018

All Falls Down: Five Questions for Dover


Anticipate a lot of action this weekend!
Photo Credit: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs
By Stephanie Stuart-Landrey

We're about 30 percent through the 2018 NASCAR schedule, and this week lands us at the Monster Mile.

At this point in the season, we usually start to see patterns of winning and consistency in crew chiefs and drivers, but some teams are still lagging behind. This week has seen some off-the-track activity and negative press that hasn't shown NASCAR in its best light. On the other hand, a fan favorite is set to climb back into the racecar, while another's plans are up in the air. Let's go racing!

Where is Chevrolet this year?

Good question. The bowtie looked to be off to a great start, as Austin Dillon drove his way to the front of the field and won the season-opening Daytona 500. But Chevrolet haven't shown much strength since. In fact, that's the only race that a Chevrolet car has won so far this season. Ford leads the way with five wins, and Toyota is hot on their heels with four. So the question has to be asked: Is Chevrolet in trouble?

The short answer is yes. Even seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is struggling to find balance in this year's setup. Their cars seem to be lacking speed, and crew chiefs seem to be scratching their heads, wondering what to do next. From races where they fail to make proper adjustments, resulting in subpar finishes to just plain unloading a bad car, Chevrolet is quickly becoming the question mark in the field, when it used to be among the top, having won multiple owner's championships over the past decade. The problem isn't just one track; Chevrolet seems to be struggling everywhere. That's a problem. If they get too far behind the rest of the field in race preparation and finishes, it's going to be a particularly long season for the bowties.

Trevor Bayne, the current driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, rolls the car out of the garage at Texas.
Photo Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud for Skirts and Scuffs

What does Matt Kenseth's return to Roush Fenway Racing signal?


It's no secret that Roush Fenway has been off the mark for the past few seasons. Their only bright spot came when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took home the checkered flag last spring at Talladega, securing a playoff spot for his team. They would later be eliminated after the first round. Other than that, at times things have looked downright dismal for the one-time powerhouse, so it shouldn't come as a shock that team owner Jack Roush was looking to shake things up.

He did so when he consulted Mark Martin, who advised him to call Matt Kenseth. The former driver of the No. 17 car spent the better half of his career at Roush-Fenway, winning the 2003 Winston Cup and multiple races before his eventual departure to Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2012 season. Kenseth was left without a ride at the end of 2017 when Joe Gibbs announced that Erik Jones would be taking over the No. 20 car and its sponsorship. Without much fanfare, 45-year-old Kenseth stepped away from the track, stating this wasn't an official retirement, and he would consider driving again if the right opportunity came along.

The right opportunity presented itself as a phone call from Roush, asking Kenseth to come on as a part-time driver for the team's No. 6 car for the remainder of 2018, currently driven by Trevor Bayne. Kenseth accepted the offer, and a multi-year sponsorship deal with Wyndham Resorts. He will officially return to the track next week at Kansas. There is speculation that he will drive full-time for Roush-Fenway in 2019.

Many people see this as a positive. After all, Kenseth handled a lot of the No. 17 team business, from helping hire pit crew members to giving personal input on crew-chief hiring. He's said before that he enjoyed having the ability to be a manager within his own team, and the autonomy that brought him. Even when Roush Fenway was starting to fade, Kenseth's team remained strong through multiple crew chief changes. He also built one of the best pit crews in the business, "The Killer Bees." It's not a surprise that Kenseth was called to help rebuild the former championship stable. He is a consummate professional who gives great information about the car, and takes constructive criticism well. It will be exciting to see what comes next for Roush Fenway.

Spencer Gallagher speaks with the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Photo Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

One and done? What's next for Spencer Gallagher? 


After winning his first race last weekend at Talladega, Gallagher appeared to be on his way to a great career in the Xfinity Series, giving a jubilant interview and staying at the track to sign hundreds of fan autographs after the race. Fans saw a likable driver bringing his family's team to Victory Lane, and making lots of friends in the process.

That all came crashing down Wednesday, when it was announced that Gallagher had tested positive for a banned substance during a random drug test (the name of the substance has not been released). He was indefinitely suspended from competition by NASCAR.

For his part, Gallagher was quick to offer a heartfelt apology to fans, his team, his family and NASCAR, and he quickly made the choice to enter NASCAR's substance abuse program, Road to Recovery. The positive test means that even if Gallagher is to return to competition this year (a feat that he would be able to accomplish), his team would be ineligible for a spot in the Xfinity Series playoffs, since Gallagher will not have run all the races. He also immediately lost his eligibility for this weekend's Dash 4 Cash race that will take place at Dover.

For a family team, this is a hard blow. His father, Maury Gallagher (team owner and CEO of Allegiant Airlines, the team's sponsor), is dealing with negative press stemming from a scathing "60 Minutes" report on the airline's safety. Now he must also take on the task of stemming off more negative press over his son's positive drug test, keeping morale at the shop high and finding a replacement driver while Gallagher completes Road to Recovery. Hopefully, the younger Gallagher will realize the enormous potential and opportunity that lies ahead, complete the program and return to the track, as A.J. Allmendinger did in 2012.

More personnel changes in the front office?

It was announced Friday that NASCAR Chief International Officer Jim Cassidy has left the organization. NASCAR did not offer an immediate reason as to why Cassidy left his position, but said he has spearheaded a number of successful initiatives and thanked him for his many years of service.

So what now? Earlier this week, Forbes Magazine released a report on the State of the Union in NASCAR, particularly taking aim at the number of empty seats seen each week at the racetracks. The report also pointed out that many tracks have had to remove hundreds of rows of seats to make the tracks seem fuller, as well as the drastic drops in television viewership. The magazine took note of the multiple changes to the competition format and recognized the decline in attendance/viewership that followed.

As NASCAR looks to revamp its business model, there will probably be more people departing from their roles. Revitalization is essential for the sport's continued existence and profitability. While it can be said that there are drivers that people have grown up with who have left the sport (namely Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and fans departed with them, there is a ton of talent occupying the field that fans should recognize and give credit. Cassidy exiting his position, without much of a reason as to why, should be a concern.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car during his last season.
Photo Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

When does fan interaction cross the line?


Many drivers and their families are generous enough to give us a glimpse into their lives with their Twitter and Instagram accounts. They often interact with the fans as well, from tweeting them back to making multiple appearances over a race weekend, to surprising them at their campsite with autographs and sponsor goodies. Most sports don't offer that level of fan interaction. Athletes are quick to move by a group of fans, or only do sponsored appearances. What happens in NASCAR is special.

But what happens when fans go too far? Maybe it's the fact that we are behind keyboards and not face-to-face with people when we make a lot of these interactions. Fans have criticized drivers, cursed at them, told them they were ugly and much, much more that I wouldn't even want to write. Most drivers take it in stride, while some will reply to a few of the hateful remarks with a snarky response or a statistic proving the person wrong, but at times it seems it's just too much negativity.

This week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his wife Amy welcomed their first child into the world, a little girl named Isla Rose. There were thousands of tweets congratulating the couple on their new arrival and wishing them well as they begin the journey of parenthood. But a few tweets actually criticized the couple over their choice of name for their daughter. One reply insinuated the name was "not a race car driver's name," and many others chastised the couple.

Let's be clear. That crosses the line.

Just because a child bears a certain last name doesn't mean that they have to carry on the family business. Just because someone doesn't like the name doesn't mean they have to openly criticize the new parents. Would these people ever say that to Dale or Amy's face? Doubtful. It's interactions like these that make drivers shy away from sharing too much of their personal life with fans. Why would a driver want to be generous to people that call them names, or insinuate that their child's name isn't worthy?

Next time you're on Twitter or Instagram, and a driver or a wife/significant other posts something that you might not agree with, just keep scrolling. Just as we want respect and a certain level of privacy on our own social media accounts, so do the drivers and their families. They are human, after all, and they have no obligation to share their lives beyond what we see at the racetrack with us.

With all three series running this weekend at Dover, it looks to be a great weekend, as long as Mother Nature cooperates. It's going to be interesting to watch these stories unfold, and to follow along as NASCAR tries to gain back a fanbase that seems to be walking away. It's an exciting time for the sport, on the brink of many new things.

Have a great race weekend!




2 comments :

  1. Negative comments have been over the top venomous for years. The most shocking aspect of it to me is how hate filled so many people are. The words we use are windows to the soul. There are far too many hateful people spewing their evil on undeserving people, both public and private.

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