*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.
NASCAR re-introduced two tracks this past weekend as the NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series raced at World Wide Technology Raceway(formerly Gateway) just outside of St. Louis and the NASCAR Xfinity Series visited Portland International Raceway in Oregon. The great turnouts at each were encouraging, weren’t they?
Richard: The track in the St. Louis area was new to the Cup Series but the Xfinity and Truck Series had raced there before. The Trucks had raced at Portland in 1999 and 2000.
Both of those crowds were large and excited about what they were watching. Any time a new market is introduced(or re-introduced) to the sport and that market reacts with enthusiasm it is a great sign for the sport. I think NASCAR has done a good job of making adjustments to the schedule both by shifting races around and incorporating new venues over the past couple of years or so.
Now the challenge is to carry that momentum forward. As I recorded earlier(see below), I am not a fan of racing in the rain as the Xfinity Series did on Saturday, but if events are going to be scheduled in the Pacific Northwest, doing so is almost a necessity. Even in the wet, the fans seemed to have a good time which would likely indicate they would be willing to come back.
The grandstands were completely packed at WWT Raceway and they saw quite a show. Between Ross Chastain getting into it with multiple drivers to a Green/White/Checkered finish that saw eventual winner Joey Logano and Kyle Busch swapping the lead multiple times over the final two laps. Like their counterparts in Oregon, it would be hard to imagine they wouldn’t want to come back.
One thing that has to be taken into consideration when a new facility is brought in is that amenities such as restrooms, concessions, parking, and the like are up to par with the other tracks on the schedule. I didn’t really hear of any problems in any of those areas.
From the standpoint of having filled grandstands and giving the fans a great show, I don’t see how anyone could call this past weekend anything but a success.
Michael: NASCAR finally deciding to go to the St. Louis area was a bit out of nowhere. Gateway (I still call it that) has been around for a number of years with no hint of the Cup series ever going there, but that all changed this weekend. Seeing a packed grandstand was awesome, especially since the last few races, other than the Coke 600, have seen mediocre crowds.
The same goes for Portland. It seemed many years ago NASCAR was heading there in some shape or fashion. But even IndyCar stopped going there for a few years. Once IndyCar went back, whispers started again about NASCAR going there as well. They did with the Xfinity series and the crowd responded despite the terrible weather.
The key is how these venues continue to draw fans after the inaugural visits from NASCAR. Kentucky Motor Speedway seemed like a sure-fire hit after the first couple of races there. Now, it’s completely off the NASCAR schedules. The success of these two new venues need to be revisited in 2-3 years.
We saw some hard feelings show themselves at Gateway with promises of revenge being made. How far is too far when it comes to payback?
Richard: Obviously, causing an injury is crossing the line. Of course, it’s impossible to know whether an injury might occur when an incident happens whether that wreck came as the result of payback or some other reason.
But causing an injury aside, another no-no when one driver is paying another back for something that might have happened earlier or any other reason is to involve another driver who had nothing to do with the original mishap. If while paying back someone else, you ruin another team’s day, you have gone to far.
Specifically in the case of Ross Chastain at Gateway after he had knocked Denny Hamlin into the outside wall, Hamlin did a good job of interfering with his rival without causing a wreck or involving someone else. Chase Elliott was also able to express his displeasure to Chastain after the No. 1 car had turned the No. 9 earlier in the race.
Aside from spinning another driver out, there are other ways to exact revenge in a more subtle manner. Brake checking coming onto pit road under caution, getting in the way as the other guy is trying to get in his pit stall, or just holding a guy up so that your teammate can make a pass for the win can be done.
Ultimately, drivers who get so consumed with exacting revenge that they lose focus on the task at hand may do more harm to their own cause than to that of their intended target. In the end, a face-to-face “discussion” might be the best way to take care of a perceived offence.
Michael: I don’t blame Hamlin for messing with Chastain afterwards. I thought it was rather comical. But once he made his first attempt to mess with Chastain, that should have been the end of it. The point was made, no reason to continue to do it over and over.
Since Hamlin continue to antagonize Chastain, even swerving back and forth to hold him up, I wouldn’t have blamed Chastain for dumping Hamlin just to say ‘You’ve made your point, now get out of my way.’ Hamlin was several laps down and Chastain was on the lead lap.
We keep waiting for a particular team or organization to take control of the season by mastering the Next Gen car. Team Penske drivers Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric showed strength all weekend. Is that operation the one to take control?
Richard: I’m not ready to go there just yet. One race does not a season make.
Yes, Logano has won two of the last four races, but at the same time, he has posted four results outside the top-15 in his last six events. Blaney’s fourth-place finish on Sunday was his first top-10 in his last five races and Cindric has not scored a top-10 since Circuit of the Americas.
So no, I don’t think we have reached the point at which we can say any team has mastered the Next Gen.
Michael: I’m not ready to anoint the Penske cars as the ones to beat. Logano does have a couple of wins, but Blaney is still winless aside from the All-Star Race, and Cindric hasn’t been contending for many wins since winning the Daytona 500.
A lot of folks seem to be waiting for the Gibbs cars to show their strength. But it hasn’t happened yet. One could argue the best Toyota has been Kurt Busch driving for 23XI Racing.
The surprise to me has been the Hendrick cars. They looked strong early, but have tailed off as of late.
I think we’re still several weeks out before we see one organization take control.
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