*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.
Should Chase Elliott receive a waiver that would allow him to make the NASCAR Playoffs despite missing races?
Richard: As has been well documented, Chase Elliott suffered a broken leg while snowboarding last week which will cause him to miss multiple races. The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion was looked at by many going into this season as the favorite to emerge from the NASCAR Playoffs hoisting the most coveted trophy in American motorsports. Now, there is the possibility that the driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet will not even be eligible for the post-season.
According to NASCAR policy, drivers must start every race to be eligible for the NASCAR Playoffs. A waiver from the sanctioning body would be required for Elliott to even have a chance at a second title. He would have to win at least one race to have a shot at being one of the sixteen drivers to qualify although the former requirement of finishing in the top-30 in the standings at the time of the cutoff has been dropped.
A waiver would not be unprecedented. Tony Stewart received one when he suffered a broken leg as a result of a Sprint Car accident in 2016 and Kurt Busch would have received a waiver last season after missing races due to a concussion but he was never cleared to race. And of course, Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Cup Series title after receiving a waiver when he missed 11 races due to an Xfinity Series crash in 2015.
I have never been in favor of granting waivers to drivers who miss events. In my opinion, it looked bad for the champion in 2015 to have missed that many races. It seemed to diminish the value of the full season.
Some argue that there should be a distinction between getting injured in a racing related activity versus being injured on a ski slope or some other off-track location. To me, it doesn’t matter. Missing races is missing races. The champion should have taken 36 green flags during the course of a season.
Of course, I’m old school as my following of NASCAR pre-dates any form of Playoff system.
My guess is that Elliott will be granted a waiver by NASCAR. I hope the decision isn’t based on the fact that he is popular but I suspect that it might be the case to a degree. If he is granted a waiver, then they should just go ahead and remove the provision that drivers are required to start every race altogether.
Michael: Like you, I don’t believe in granting waivers. But since there is already a precedent and there’s no going back, I think waivers should be for on-track accidents only.
In team sports, most players have in their contracts they cannot do certain things because of risk of injury. They can’t go snowboarding, skiing, or play pickup basketball games. Maybe NASCAR teams should consider it.
It’s hard for teams to get a sponsor for most of or all of the season. When they do get those sponsors, it’s on the understanding the driver will be in those races. It would be interesting to hear what NAPA, Hooters, and Eliiott’s other sponsors have to say about this behind closed doors.
What drivers or teams have impressed you after the first three races?
Richard: Two drivers from the same team have definitely impressed me in this early portion of the season. Last year I wonder if Trackhouse Racing and drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez were legitimate forces to be reckoned with or if they were just a flash in the pan. The way they have started off 2023, I would say they are legitimate as Chastain currently sits atop the NASCAR Cup Series standings with one top-5 and two top-10s while Suarez is the only driver to score top-10 results in all three races held so far.
Alex Bowman has also shown strength at this early stage. Often regarded as the “other” driver at Hendrick Motorsports, he seems to be outperforming his more notable teammates, at least at this stage of the season.
Kyle Busch certainly got off with a bang in his new environment at Richard Childress Racing but I am still going to hold judgement for a few more weeks.
Michael: The RFK team has looked good. Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski both have had strong races from the start even though their finishes my not indicate that.
Justin Haley has been quietly posting good finishes. He hasn’t been getting a lot of attention from TV. I usually watch the scoring ticker and he’s been up there.
Cory Lajoie has shown his strong run in the summer Atlanta race last year was no fluke. He’ll be one to watch when the Cup series returns to Atlanta in a couple of weeks.
How well will Jonathan Davenport do in the Food City Dirt Race?
Richard: The bulk of our attention is typically on dirt racing through this site’s sister page, InsideDirtRacing.com. As a result, I have come to know Davenport fairly well. I assure anyone who is reading this that he is taking this opportunity very seriously and will put in all the work he can to be prepared.
That said, this is no easy task. Those more familiar with dirt racing and less familiar with NASCAR may believe that his experience on dirt will override his lack of experience in this form of racing. I am afraid that will not be the case. I have never driven a race car in my life but simple observation tells me that steering a Dirt Late Model around Bristol Motor Speedway has very little to do with driving a Cup car there.
As we have seen in the past, knowing the car seems to be more important than knowing the surface. After all, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch have won the two Cup races held there and neither of them has very much experience on dirt.
The Kaulig team has good equipment so there is a chance Davenport could be competitive. And we have seen Bobby Pierce run well on dirt in a couple of opportunities he had on the Craftsman Truck Series. I think a top-15 finish would be a good goal for a very talented racer who has no experience in this type of car.
Michael: If there’s one thing I have learned in all my years of watching NASCAR it’s the regular drivers are very good at what they do regardless of track configurations or track surfaces. Teams used to bring in road course ringers all the time. None of them ever won a Cup race in the last 30 years or so. It’s the same with dirt racing.
A lot of dirt racing fans will be cheering for Davenport at Bristol. It would be nice to see a dirt regular post a good finish in one of these races.
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