Turn 2 Blog: Elliott gets a win & Stenhouse almost causes Playoff chaos

*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.

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Richard: After the Monday continuation of the Duramax Drydene 400 at Dover Motor Speedway the cycle has been completed for Hendrick Motorsports. Chase Elliott’s victory made him the fourth of the drivers on that four-car team to score a NASCAR Cup Series victory in the 2022 season. Although he came into the race as the series points leader, he had still had yet to match teammates William Byron, Alex Bowman and defending champion Kyle Larson in the win column so getting the win was important in that sense.

Even though it was not really ever in question, the 2020 champion is now all but assured that he will be a part of the NASCAR Playoffs during this season’s final ten races.

But perhaps the most import aspects of all as far as Elliott’s win is concerned is that the sport’s most popular driver scored a win to keep his fans engaged, even though it’s not like they were going to lose interest. And, the truly significant factor here could be that Elliott proved he can win on an oval. His last win on a track other than a road course was his championship-deciding triumph at Phoenix at the end of 2020.

So for a variety of reasons, it was important for Chase Elliott to win.

Michael: I think it was important from a confidence standpoint. As you pointed out, it’s been since the end of the 2020 season since he’s won on an oval. And it’s important for all championship-caliber drivers to get a win in the new car.

Elliott is one of the drivers who can rip off several wins in a row or over stretch of races. Maybe this is the race where they get some of the team’s bad luck out of the way.

Chase Elliott got his first win of 2022 in Dover

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came very close to really upsetting the apple cart in terms of the Playoffs, didn’t he?

Richard: Stenhouse and his JTG-Daugherty Racing team came into the Dover race 31st in the standings. There is virtually no chance of him making the Playoffs without winning a race. And on Monday afternoon, he was very much in contention to do that very thing ultimately earning a second-place finish.

Every time a driver below the Playoffs cutline wins a race it pushes another driver who hasn’t won but is within the top-16 in the standings out of the picture. An example of that is Denny Hamlin whose Richmond win basically locked him into the Playoffs even though he is well back in the standings.

Media members aren’t supposed to root for drivers but we do root for good stories. Stenhouse winning a race to make the Playoffs certainly would have made for a good story. In some ways, I like the Playoff format for the very reason that there is always a chance of getting in even during a bad season, but at the same time, that sort of thing is a bit of a drawback as it could give a poorly performing team a puncher’s chance at a championship just because they had one good weekend.

Michael: Stenhouse has been MIA for a good part of the season. There have been times this season I forget he’s still racing. TV coverage has some to do with that. But even on plate tracks, he’s rarely been in the mix. For him to finish second and come close to getting a win would have been huge.

If another team like this can get a win, it certainly makes the effort of getting into the playoffs more interesting when that time rolls around. Who would have imagined Kevin Harvick is on the fence of getting in, if the playoffs started now? The new car has leveled the playing field, for now.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had his best finish of the season in Dover

The Next Gen car has brought a number of challenges to NASCAR teams this season. One of those has been the single-lug wheel. Having a wheel to come off while on track brings with it a four-race suspension for the crew chief as well as the jackman and the tire changer. Is that penalty too severe?

Richard: I understand the intent of the penalty. Having a wheel come off on the track could lead to a number of outcomes and none of them are good, and some could be quite disastrous. As a result, NASCAR wants to make sure teams aren’t cutting corners in an area that could lead to significant safety related issues.

But as the same time, four races is a major penalty particularly when it will cause three crucial members of a team to be suspended for that length of time.

Teams are willing to take a number of chances to gain a competitive edge and somehow tricking up the wheels or some other aspect of a pit stop is one way to gain that edge. NASCAR no doubt figures that those involved will be far less likely to try something that could wind up causing a safety issue if they know a major punishment could be the end result.

If a tire and wheel were to come off on track and be hit by another car, it could fly into the grandstands. No one wants to even think of what that could result in. So no, I don’t think the penalty is too severe?

Michael: I think the penalty is too severe. I know teams want as quick of a pit stop as possible. Leaving a lug loose on the single-lug wheel comes with a greater cost than leaving one loose with the old wheels.

I didn’t understand the need to go from the typical 5-lug wheel for a single lug. I know the stock in stock car racing left the sport a number of years ago. There are no Camaros, Mustangs, or Camrys that come with single-lug wheels. This is one of the few complaints I have about the new car.

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