*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.
What has happened to the road courses?
Richard: When the Next Gen came along it looked promising in the beginning. Racing on the much-scorned intermediate tracks seemed to improve. And if that proved to be a long-term fix, it would be great news for NASCAR. After all, the road courses and short tracks would take car of themselves, right?
Well, that is not proving to be right at all. Quite frankly, the road course races at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen held over the past two weekends have not been particularly intriguing. Yes, Indy had the feel good story of Michael McDowell and his underdog Front Row Motorsports team winning to lock themselves into the NASCAR Playoffs, but beyond that, there was very little excitement.
I am far from an expert on anything, including the mechanical aspects of a race car, but it seems to me that the Next Gen is too good of a car. The brakes are too good, the transmissions are too well suited for this form of racing, and everyone is using the same pieces and parts as everyone else. The car has proven to be essentially bulletproof and the drivers are all very good at what they do which means there is typically very little attrition. As a result of all that, there has been little passing because everyone is running the same speed.
A few years ago, NASCAR began to add more road course races to its schedule because those tracks seemed to produce the best racing. Now, those tracks have become much like the others in that the racing has become a little stale which is really disappointing.
Michael: It would appear the road course problems and short track problems are related. As you said, the new car has such a wider track and different suspension it’s making those types of racing seem lackluster.
NASCAR recently conducted a test at Richmond to try out different configurations and components on the cars. Reports from that test indicate the changes made little to no impact on the quality of racing. They did run the cars in packs to simulate racing action.
What is going to be interesting is the Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang are both going away soon. The series will allow those cars to be used for several years. Knowing those car models are going away, does NASCAR ride this out until Chevy and Ford unveil new cars or try something different before then? It’s obvious the current Cup car needs a lot of work to make the racing better on road courses and short tracks.
It seems like there have been more post-race disputes lately. Is the pressure getting to these guys?
Richard: I think there are several factors that have led to these squabbles we have seen over the summer months, but yes, I believe some of these guys are feeling the heat and I don’t just mean that which comes from the sun. There are very high expectations for drivers and teams to both make the NASCAR Playoffs and to make deep runs once there. That, in turn, leads to some doing things they might not normally do to gain a position or score a win.
But more than that, there are other factors. I think it was Kyle Petty who said this past weekend that just about the only way to pass someone is to rough them up a little. Going back to the points mentioned above, the cars are all the same and everyone is running the same speed so, unless the driver ahead makes a mistake, there is no way to pass other than to nudge them out of the way.
Obviously, those nudges aren’t going to sit well with the guys who get nudged.
And it’s not just the disputes that are on the rise because of the pressure as there have been a number of drivers and crews making uncharacteristic mistakes. Kyle Larson surrendered what looked like a top-5 finish at Watkins Glen by speeding on pit road. Michael McDowell looked like a potential winner on Sunday but both he and his crew made crucial pit road mistakes. And, Chase Elliott’s crew left him out on track one lap too long causing him to run out of gas when there was really nothing to be gained by not pitting earlier.
Team owners, sponsors, and fans want to see their drivers at least have a shot at winning a championship. That possibility will go away with ten races still remaining on the schedule and the drivers and teams know that. Yes, the pressure is real.
Michael: I don’t know if the pressure is getting to some of them or it’s just the heat of the summer that has some on the edge. I know Larson has been involved in a couple of these. With him, I think him taking the bad end of bumps and crashes early in the season may finally have gotten to the point that he doesn’t need to take it any more.
I saw some of these issues also come up in the Xfinity race. Kaz Grala and Sammy Smith got into it at Watkins Glan with Smith trying to get in the last word. Well, he did. The problem was he did more damage to his own car than he did to Grala’s car.
If the drivers are starting feel it, Daytona should be interesting.
What driver not already locked into the NASCAR Playoffs has the best chance of winning his way in at Daytona?
Richard: I’m going to go a little off the beaten path here and say Alex Bowman. He and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team have not had a good season at all so he will go into the race at Daytona with nothing to lose. He seems to always be fast at Daytona and I believe HMS teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson would help to push him in the final laps if needed.
But in reality, I don’t think there will be a first time winner this weekend. I’m actually picking Kyle Busch to take the victory.
Michael: There are several drivers not locked in that run well at Daytona that could win their way in. Austin Dillon is the defending race winner and he’s not in. Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace, and Aric Almirola are others I could see getting a win.
I gave up a long time ago predicting winners at Daytona and Talladega. I really like how Chris Buescher is running and I can see him as someone who’s already won that could win at Daytona.
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