Friday, May 25, 2018

Five Questions Before Charlotte


Kevin Harvick wins the 2018 All Star Race
credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
by Lisa Janine Cloud

Memorial Day weekend. For many Americans it means the beach, barbecue, and beer, wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, never forgetting those men and women in uniform who gave their lives for our freedom to burn hot dogs, our skin and rubber.

Ohhh yeahhh. While the last Monday in May commemorates those who paid the ultimate price in defending our country, the last Sunday in May is the equivalent of a high holy day for motorsports fans. Engines will roar in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600.

What better way to honor the memory of those who have passed on than to live life full throttle at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway?

Some diehards will even start Sunday morning off with breakfast at the Monaco Grand Prix.

That’s 78 laps in Monaco, 200 laps at the Brickyard, and at least 400 laps at Charlotte. About 1260 miles. Will you be among those who try to catch every lap?

Those questions don’t count toward this week’s Five Questions, though, so don’t think you’re getting off that easily. It’s been a busy few weeks in the NASCAR world, and there are probably as many questions as there will be miles run on Sunday, so let’s get started.

Can the Xfinity Series momentum continue? The four weeks of the Dash 4 Cash contest gave fans some of the best racing in the series in recent memory. Whether it was the lack of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers, the variety of tracks, or a combination of the two, the on-track product certainly satisfied. Will the trend continue at Charlotte Motor Speedway with five Cup drivers entered in the Alsco 300? Three of those five topped the charts in practice: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Chase Elliott. Can an Xfinity Series regular get past those three?

Has the Xfinity Series been infected with the penalty virus? After a thrilling race at Dover where Justin Allgaier beat teammate Elliott Sadler to win the race and the $100,000, Allgaier’s No. 7 Chevy incurred an L1-level penalty for a trailing arm violation found during teardown at the R&D Center. While he retains the prize money since it's considered part of his pay for the race, the victory does not qualify Allgaier for the Playoffs. The No. 3 of Jeb Burton had a splitter violation that cost crew chief Nick Harrison $10,000 and earned car chief Michael Searce a weekend off. Penalties have been plentiful this season in the Cup Series. Do the penalties at Dover indicate that the Xfinity Series is following suit?

Can anyone beat the “old guy” Kevin Harvick? The driver of the No. 4 Busch Ford is a self-professed old guy who takes pleasure in beating the young drivers who are getting so much air time and publicity. He’s won five of the 12 points-paying races this season plus the All Star Race. Even though one of those wins doesn’t count toward the Playoffs, it still counts as a “W” in the record books. Another one at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600 would give Harvick a second set of three wins in a row. With SHR firing on all cylinders, and with Rodney Childers making inspired race calls, it’s as sure a thing as you get in racing that Harvick will win again this season. Will it be at Charlotte?

Will the 2018 championship be powered by Roush-Yates engines? Currently, seven of the top 10 in Drivers Points are blue ovals, and just over half the races (plus the All Star Race) this season ended with Fords in Victory Lane. Although Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. scored trophies for Toyota, and Austin Dillon holds the lone Chevrolet checkered flag, Fords have dominated this season the way Chevy and Hendrick Motorsports dominated in years past. Can Toyota and Chevy catch up?

Is Rob Kauffman right? On Monday, CGRT partner Rob Kauffman, formerly partner in the now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing, reacted to a Bob Pockrass tweet announcing a 41st entry in the Coca-Cola 600, the No. 7 to be driven by JJ Yeley, owned by John Cohen.


Kauffman’s tweet was widely criticized by those who defend NASCAR’s history of small teams growing into larger teams, but he held fast, stating that “at the at the Premier Level of @Nascar someone should have the resources to commit to the full season and help put on a great show all year. Nothing against small teams!”

You can read the exchange here, by Dustin Long of NBC Sports.

Personally, I look no farther than the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing team piloted this season by Kasey Kahne. Bob Leavine of Texas formulated a plan, running David Starr for four races in 2011, Scott Speed 15 races in 2012, working up to run a full season with Ty Dillon and Michael McDowell in 2016.

The sport has evolved over the last few years, but has it moved beyond providing opportunities for small teams with shoestring budgets? I hope not. I’m all for the team owners investments being protected, but not at the expense of the teams that are, in my opinion, the guts of NASCAR. They could do something else and make a living, but racing is in their blood, so they would rather scratch and claw at the big show than run in lower-tier series.

What’s your take? Leave your comments below, but please keep them respectful.

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